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Onyx reviews: Broken by Karin Slaughter

Dr. Sara Linton is in Heartsdale, Georgia visiting her family for Thanksgiving. Being back home from Atlanta stirs up conflicted emotions. The wound of her dead husband, Heartsdale's former police chief Jeffrey Tolliver, is still fresh. She blames Detective Lena Adams for creating the circumstances that lead to his murder four years earlier.

A homicide ruins Sara's plans to keep a low profile while in town. Someone tried to make the murder of a female college student look like a suicide, but Lena turns up clues that reveal a different story. The evidence leads Sara, interim chief Frank Wallace and rookie officer Brad Stephens to the student's garage apartment, where they surprise Tommy Braham. In the confused melee that follows, Brad is stabbed, Lena is wounded and Tommy is beaten while being arrested. In custody, Tommy plunges into depression and begs to see Sara, who used to be his pediatrician. By the time she gets to the jail, Tommy has killed himself.

A lot of things are broken in Grant County, including the local police department. Wallace is a raging drunk. Tommy's arrest was a catastrophe of epic proportions and the confession Lena obtained was probably coerced. Tommy had a low IQ and was highly suggestible. The case probably wouldn't have stood up in court, and that was before someone started tampering with the evidence.

Rather than going through channels, Sara reaches out directly to GBI agent Will Trent to investigate the circumstances surrounding Tommy's death while in custody. Sara sees the situation as a chance to exact her revenge revenge on Lena. 

Will knows he won't be welcomed with open arms, and he's right. The local police dig in their heels, hide evidence and generally refuse to cooperate with his investigation. To make matters worse, he ends up staying at Sara's domineering mother's house, leading to rumors that he's sleeping with Sara. He has a complicated relationship with his wife back in Atlanta, but that's not the worst of his problems. He has severe dysgraphia, which makes it virtually impossible for him to read anything. Sara is quick to diagnose his problem, which leads to tension between them.

While characters with afflictions can be interesting, readers may find it difficult to accept that someone with such a severe handicap could escape detection by his coworkers and superiors. It's also hard to fathom how he could have progressed through the ranks. Surely his job and advancements would require copious paperwork, written reports, and written examinations. Will reminisces about how his wife helped cover for him, but that stretches credibility to the limit. Vital evidence often comes before him in written form. Delays in interpreting that material could torpedo cases. He even has trouble following directions, so how does he make it to crime scenes?

There is a lot of history among the characters, much of which comes from Slaughter's previous novels; however, she does a good job of filling in the history for readers who haven't read the earlier books. At times, the conflict feels a touch melodramatic and it's hard to like the characters very much. Lena, at least, begins to lighten up once she realizes that Will has figured out how badly she screwed things up. She achieves a kind of peace in acknowledging that her career may be over. She starts working the case with a diligence she previously lacked.

The resolution of the crime comes out of left field, though. There are clues to the motivation behind the murders, but they're very subtle, and some readers my feel like Slaughter has been stingy. Besides, the killings are more brutal than the motive would seem to explain.

Also, people make much of the fact that everyone in tiny Heartsdale knows everyone else's business and yet Lena's relationship manages to remain secret and another important character returns to the area without anyone noticing.

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