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Indelible – Review

by: Slaughter, Karin

Publisher: Harper HarperCollins Publishers

Location: 10 E. 53rd St, NY, NY

Copyright: 2004

Type: Paperback


reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 08/12/2008

Summary: Medical Examiner Sara Linton seeks reunion with estranged husband who is a Police Chief gravely wounded during a hostage situation in his small jail.


Karin Slaughter’s INDELIBLE takes a standard approach to story-telling. Set up a current event and, through intermittent flashbacks, bring the reader up to date on how the current event developed. It is difficult to imagine INDELIBLE being told any other way. The devil however is in the details. For the most part, the entire package is story telling at its best. In addition to good story telling, INDELIBLE offers up a truism that is as inescapable in fiction as it is in real life.

There are two pivot-points in the story at which INDELIBLE falls a little flat. In the current event in which two men invade the Grant County, Georgia police station and take hostages, we discover early on that medical examiner Sara Linton knows at least one of the men, a Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith certainly knows Sara Linton. Sara Linton’s ex-husband, Police Chief Jeffrey Tolliver, should also know Mr. Smith. But Chief Tolliver is wounded during the initial action and is effectively out of the drama. The question is, does Mr. Smith know Chief Tolliver? By the end of the story, we conclude that he does not. For the Mr. Smith character and the central point of the story, the ignorance of Mr. Smith is rather unbelievable.

There is one element in the flashbacks that does not promote an escape into this make-believe world created by INDELIBLE. Before they became man and wife, Chief Tolliver takes Sara Linton to his home town of Sylacauga, Georgia. Ostensibly, it is an ego thing. Tolliver wants to show Sara how far he has come as an individual. It is here, the visit to Sylacauga, that Sara Linton brings us back via memories as she languishes in captivity as a hostage at the police station. It is here that we find out why, ten year later, two men invade Chief Tolliver’s police station, murder deputies and hold some visiting children hostage. The foundation that the author lays here is positively brilliant. Characters, caught up in outright lies, act based upon lies. Their acts, in turn, perpetuate more actions–all based upon secrets and lies. This is fiction examining the skeleton of everyday life–the protruding sinews and flesh captured in fiction. But would a woman of Sara Linton’s grit allow herself to be seduced into maintaining a foothold in the tiny world of Sylacauga. It is a world in which everything from the attitude of her would-be mother-in-law to the percolating life-frustrations of her would-be-husband’s friends threaten to surge straight into the nullifying calm of violence and death? The author wants you to believe that the answer is yes. Slaughter has crafted this work so expertly that the reader is almost trapped into acquiescing to the possibility. Still, after turning the last page of INDELIBLE, there remains doubt whether the Sara Linton portrayed in the novel would exist in such a world in the first place, let alone tolerate one consequence of its ending.

INDELIBLE is a simple story told with uncommon expertise. The uncommon expertise is in the way the characters are revealed as vulnerable, fallacy prone beings. They are immersed in a situation in which you, the reader, recognize as a simple misunderstanding. Both Chief Tolliver–especially Chief Tolliver–and “Mr. Smith” are products of a lie. Both pay a price. You, the reader, are left with the question of whether something as simple as “truth”, at some strategic point along the way, would have prevented the ensuing multiple tragedies. Even if you don’t really care that much about the characters, INDELIBLE still manages to draw you into the underlying question of the story. It is not a great story, but it achieves the exalted goal of every story. It makes you ponder alternatives.

INDELIBLE is definitely worth reading.



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