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Onyx reviews: Fallen by Karin Slaughter

Fallen gets off to a fast-paced start. Faith Mitchell is late picking up her baby from her mother's house after a morning at a Georgia Bureau of Investigations training seminar. Because she skipped a meal or two, her blood sugar is out of whack. Being late isn't unusual for Faith, but on this particular day she will soon grow to regret her tardiness.

When she gets to her mother's house, she finds signs of violence, including a body in the laundry room. Then she encounters a man with a gun to another man's head. A few minutes later, both men are dead and Faith is explaining to investiga­tors why she violated protocol by entering a potential crime scene without backup. They suspect she's impaired because of symptoms of her diabetes, which she does a poor job of maintaining.

Her mother, a former captain of the narcotics department of the Atlanta Police Department, is missing. Her baby is found hidden in a backyard shed. Whoever invaded her mother's house was looking for something, but it's hard to figure out exactly what happened or who was behind it. Among the dead are members of Mexican and Chinese gangs. It's like a turf war was waged in this quiet neighbor­hood.

Evelyn Mitchell retired five years ago after her entire squad was arrested and prosecuted for corruption. Mitchell is the only member of the group who remains untainted, though suspicions linger that she was on the take, too. Were the criminals looking for the large sum of money some think she has hidden?

The delicate investigation, which crosses jurisdictional boundaries, brings together Slaughter's three regular characters: Faith Mitchell of the GBI and her partner, Will Trent, and trauma doctor Sara Linton. It isn't a love triangle, exactly, as there doesn't appear to be any romantic connection between Faith and Will, but it feels like one sometimes. Sara and Will definitely have feelings for each other, but they are both hesitant to act on them. Will, who grew up in foster care, is a hard man to figure out. He's dyslexic, which complicates his job because he can only read at about a second grade level. When he gets angry he goes silent. His record for not speaking to his superior, Amanda Wagner, is three days. His estranged and troubled wife keeps coming into and vanishing from his life, adding to his inner turmoil.

Faith has her own baggage. She got pregnant when she was fourteen, bringing shame onto her family. She recently gave birth again, though she hasn't told the father yet. She's juggling her job, her diabetes, and her child with her mother's assistance. Dr. Linton, the widow of a police officer, is by far the most well adjusted of the trio, at least in this book.

Because of suspicions about Captain Mitchell's corruption, Will and Amanda interrogate the former members of her team, many of whom are in prison. One is on death row because he killed another inmate and a guard after being incarcerated. Opinions are mixed about whether Mitchell is sitting on a pile of money, but most people, including Will's boss—who is Mitchell's best friend—insist she's clean.

For a long time, there's no communication from the presumed kidnappers. The criminals, whoever they are, have no trouble eliminating members of their own group when the going gets tough. If there's a flaw in Fallen, it's that Slaughter has too many scenes where people who know what's going on are killed, either in the presence of the police or shortly before or after they visit. Resisting a current trend, the book's chapters are very long, which can make it hard to find a natural breaking point. Also, the tension surrounding Faith's actions at her mother's house and her alleged intoxication, quickly dissipates.

The book starts on Saturday and winds up less than a week later, but it packs in many twists and turns. It's a solid procedural that is deepened by the characters' personal issues, which are far deeper than the superficial treatment they are sometimes given in crime novels. Faith, Will and Sara have a long history together, and their relationships advance significantly over the course of this novel. Slaughter has also created an intricate and surprising backstory behind the crime that can't fully be appreciated until the end, when the truth is revealed. 

Though Fallen is part of a series featuring ongoing characters, readers unfamiliar with the previous books will have no trouble enjoying it as a standalone. As one of Slaughter's strongest novels to date, it is an excellent entry point to her work.

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