Monday, August 19, 2019

Books: "The Last Widow" By Karin Slaughter

The Last Widow 
By Karin Slaughter
William Morrow; hardcover, 464 pages; $27.99; available this Tuesday, August 20

Karin Slaughter is a literary force to be reckoned with, as her gripping and emotionally-charged New York Times bestselling thrillers have been enthralling readers for the last 19 years.

Fans have always been drawn to her strong themes of female empowerment, her incredible skill for holding up a mirror to society to explain what is happening in the world, her dedication to local libraries, and her effervescent personality on social media and in real life.

In her new book, The Last Widow, Slaughter returns to two of her most popular characters, Will Trent and Sara Linton, after a three-year hiatus. The story begins with an abduction as a scientist from the Centers for Disease Control, Michelle Spivey, is grabbed by unknown assailants in a shopping center parking lot while walking with her young daughter. 

The police search for her, her partner pleads for her release, but in the end, they can't find anything. A month later, on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, medical examiner Sara Linton is about to have lunch with her boyfriend Will Trent, and agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

The serenity of this day is shattered by the boom of a groundshaking blast, followed by another one seconds later. One of Atlanta's hottest neighborhoods, home to Emory University, two major hospitals, the FBI headquarters, and the CDC, has been bombed. 

Sara and Will are trained to help in an emergency. Their jobs require them to run toward a crisis, not away from it. On this one terrible day, that instinct betrays them both, as Sara is taken prisoner and Will is forced undercover.

The fallout leads them into the Appalachian Mountains, to the terrible truth about what happened to Michelle, and to a remote compound where a radical group has murder in mind.

In this excerpt, Slaughter shows her incredible knack for detail as she writes of what Sara is going through while being held: "Monday August 5, 5:45 a.m. Sara was pulled awake by her own sweat dripping into her eyes. She squinted at her watch, but found only her bare wrist. She turned to see if Will was in bed, but there was no Will and there was no bed. Sara had fallen asleep with her back wedged into the corner.
The Camp.
At least Sara assumed she was in the Camp. Last night, a black van had picked them up at the motel. Sara was loaded into the back, blindfolded and gagged, handcuffed to Michelle. The woman was unconscious through most of the journey. Even after she'd finally stirred from her drugged stupor, Michelle had not uttered a word. The only noise out of her mouth was a grief-filled cry when the door to the van had opened and she'd realized where they were.
But where was that, exactly?
Sara pushed herself up against the corner. Her legs were stiff. Sweat rolled off her body. Her clothes were so filthy they scratched her skin. She had only seen the rustic, one-room cabin by lamplight. Twelve paces wide. Twelve paces deep. Ceiling pitched higher than she could reach. No windows. A tin roof. Rough-hewn walls and floor. Surrounded by trees.
The bucket by the door served as a toilet. Another bucket in the opposite corner held water and a ladle. There was a straw mattress on a crude wooden frame. The makeshift box spring was a long length of rope tied into a series of knots, forming a net. Sara had chosen to sleep in the corner nearest the backswing of the door. She wanted as much time as possible to prepare if a stranger came in.
She tried the doorknob. The padlock bumped against the frame. She paced the room. The walls were unpainted wood. There was no insulation between the studs. No electricity, but sunlight streaked through the gaps in the boards. She peered between the slats. Green leaves, dark tree trunks. The sound of water burbling. A stream, maybe, or a river that she could follow downstream if she found the chance.
She walked to the other side of the room. Same view of dense forest. She pressed her hand against the board. The nails were rusting. If she pushed hard enough, she might be able to force off the bottom slats and crawl out. 
A key slid into the padlock.
Sara stepped back, fists clenched.
Dash smiled at her. His arm was still in a sling, but he had changed into jeans and a button-down shirt. 'Good morning, Dr. Earnshaw. I thought you might enjoy taking your breakfast with us after you meet your patients.'
The idea of food made her stomach turn, but she would need to keep up her strength in case the opportunity presented itself to run.
Dash said, 'I can handcuff you, but I think you've already figured out how remote we are from civilization.'
Sara had figured no such thing, but she nodded.
'Good girl.' He stepped aside so she could go ahead of him.
Sara tried not to let the girl grate,  as if she was a child or a horse. One of the sentries from the motel stood outside the door. AR-15, black tactical gear.
Sara stepped down onto a log that served as a stair. She tried to orient herself. The forest was thick, but there was a cleared path beyond the cabin. She squinted at the sun peeking over the horizon. Five thirty or six in the morning. They were in the foothills of the Appalachian mountain chain, though that didn't narrow things down. If she assumed the motel had been in the western part of Georgia, they could be in Tennessee or Alabama. Or she could be completely wrong, and they were in the North Georgia Mountains near the Carolinas.
Sara stared down the cleared path. She picked her way over a fallen tree. She could feel Dash reaching out to help her. She moved away from him, away from his feigned chivalry.
He said, 'I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by what you find here.'
Sara bit her lip. Unless she found a car at the end of this path that was going to drive her home, there was nothing pleasant about her surroundings. 'I am a hostage. I am here against my will.' 
'You had a choice.' His tone had an overly familiar teasing element. He was trying to establish an easiness between them, as if the gun on his hip and his armed sentry didn't give him all of the power.
Sara pushed a branch away from her face. Her skin was furred with grime, blood, and sweat. She had furtively washed herself with tepid water fro the bucket, but had no choice but to put back on her dirty clothes. The shorts were rigid with blood. Her shirt reeked of her own body odor. Her bra and underwear had turned into sandpaper. There was no shortage of forensic evidence on her now. She wondered if there was something she should do - cut herself on a bramble, leave a blood trail, mark the path in some way so that Charlie Reed or Will would know that she had been here.

At the motel, Sara had drawn the heart of the ceiling first. She had been taking a risk leaving the message, but the most important thing she wanted to convey was that she knew that he was looking for her."

About the Author: Slaughter recently collaborated with Lee Child on a short story Cleaning the Gold, bringing together two of her legendary characters, Jack Reacher and Will Trent. Her bestselling novel from last summer, Pieces of Her, is soon to be an eight-part Netflix adaptation, directed by Lesli Linka Glatter (Mad Men), and produced by Charlotte Stoudt  (Homeland) and Bruna Papandrea (Big Little Lies). Here is our review of Pieces of Her from August 2018:

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