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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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To Love, Honor, and Kill – Review

by: Butcher, Lee

Publisher: Pinnacle Books, Kensington Publishing Corp., 830 Third Ave, NY, NY

Copyright: 2008

Summary: Justin Barber is convicted of killing his wife, April, based on no hard evidence. As seen on CourtTVNews–or not.

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 8/4/2008

Justin Barber was convicted of killing his wife, April Barber. He escaped the death-penalty recommendation of the jury when Florida Circuit Court Judge Edward Hedstrom opted to impose a life sentence instead. You can get the full trial from the CourtTVNews web site. If you want to read Lee Butcher’s, TO LOVE, HONOR, AND KILL, it will cost you roughly seven dollars (paperback) and roughly 457 pages of reading time. There are better pursuits for you money and time.

TO LOVE, HONOR, AND KILL suffers from padding. There is a technique in writing a dissertation in which the author can describe the tip of an iceberg for instance and then describe the tip of the iceberg again and include a description of the ocean in which the iceberg is floating. The author then describes the tip of the iceberg again, the body of water in which it sits and then describes the bottom of the iceberg. The entire process is repeated again to get to the finale, the bottom of the body of water above which the bottom of the iceberg floats. Keeping a reader’s interest is almost entirely dependent upon the writer’s observational OR investigative skills and presenting those skills by way of literary exposition. Unfortunately, there is not too much leeway in presenting a fact as a fact. Of course, the fewer facts the author has to work with on the way to the bottom of the iceberg greatly hampers the descriptive process.

In relying on the trial of Justin Barber to examine the murder of April Barber, Butcher can be excused for padding the narrative. The entire case against Barber was built upon inference and deduction. Nothing concrete. In reading the book, having not watched the CourtTV trial, the reader anticipates something substantial being reveal pointing to Barber as a murderer. Never happens. Instead what the reader gets is a litany of character and behavioral flaws that, quite frankly, adds up to a definitive definition of a jerk. Did Barber kill his wife? Most likely, he did. But still, there was no proof presented at his trail that he did.

April Barber’s murder occurred off the boardwalk of the Guana River State Park beach in Florida. Husband and wife went for a late night stroll. According to Justin, they were accosted by a man waving a “small” gun. The man shot Justin four times, producing “minor” wounds. April was shot once in the face. She died almost instantly. Justin said he passed out at some point before April was shot. When he awoke and had to search the beach for his wife. Finding her, he attempted to carry and then had to drag her to the end of the walkway leading to the beach. He said he was too weak to carry her to their vehicle. Instead, he went to the vehicle and drove almost ten miles before he stopped at an intersection and another couple helped him by dialing 911. He told the couple and police he did not know the beach on which his wife could be found.

When the authorities and the couple who assisted Barber at the intersection found April’s body no one could immediately determine how she died. There would later be conflicting stories as to whether there was blood on her body at the time she was discovered, specifically on her face, around the nostrils and mouth. By the time April’s body was photographed in the position she was found, there was a congealing stream of blood issuing from her left nostril and her mouth. Was the blood there when she was initially found?

Butcher correctly focuses on this question of blood because the State used the absence of blood around April’s nostrils and mouth when she was first found to bolster its contention that Justin Barber had dragged his wife from the ocean’s edge after attempting to drown her and then shooting her in the face after he had dropped her near the walkway leading from the beach. Indeed, the State entire case hinged on this circumstantial evidence. Is such a scenario feasible? Absolutely. It is possible that Justin Barber did in fact shoot his wife in the face with a .22 caliber pistol? Yes. He had a motive, he had opportunity, and given his previous statements relative to his previous marriage-he would never suffer the indignity of a divorce again-he exhibited the capacity to commit such a murder. Problem. Evidence.

TO LOVE, HONOR, AND KILL follows the State’s case against Justin Barber. Over four hundred pages (paperback edition) of words. By the end, the feeling is that nothing substantial has been uncovered to explain the surface of fact. A young woman has been killed for no apparent reason. While author Lee Butcher can not be faulted for the absence of concrete evidence in the resulting murder trail, he can be faulted for rehashing what is essentially a news report.

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