Triptych by Karin Slaughter: A Rough-Hewn First Book in a Lengthy Crime Thriller Series – Book Review

Triptych by Karin Slaughter is a crime thriller novel about a series of gruesome murders with a killer that signs his crimes in a grotesque act of mutilation. A veteran detective with marital issues, a woman working as a vice cop, and an ex-con with some very special insights end up working on the case in their own ways to help solve this horrifying collection of kills.

I have been reading Ms Slaughter’s works for the better part of a year and thought it was time to pickup her serials now that I’ve read through almost all of her stand-alone titles. While Triptych definitely has her signature level of mind-blowingly fucked-up shenanigans, it’s easy to tell that it’s one of her earliest books and not quite as polished as her more recent titles. Even with its shortcomings, however, the thriller was worth its reading.

As the title may indicate, there are three main perspectives that come together to craft the bigger picture of the crimes being committed the motives behind them. A lot of the issues that I had was a result of this specific set-up. One of the perspectives we receive is given early on in the book and is only shown once throughout the entirety of the story. It paints a very separate image than the other point-of-views and because of that it felt quite out-of-place and far too revelatory in a crime thriller setting. After the second perspective finishes off, it became extremely easy to pick out the culprit and understand what is going on. Once that bit is deciphered, a humongous chunk of the suspense element falters terribly, which is where I was left feeling wholly disappointed. I understand what the author was trying to accomplish writing-wise, but the results just weren’t as flowing or impactful as I would’ve like them to be.

Aside from that one titbit with respect to the actual style of the storytelling, everything else about Triptych was rather fascinating. The crimes are gruesome and involves an oral-fixation type of body mutilation that is described in graphic details, so if you’re a reader that gets queasy very easily, I would steer quite clear of this novel. The tension of watching various folx trying to capture such a sadistic psychopath is rather tight and definitely made my skin crawl, which just made my desire for his capture all the more passionate. I love it when books can create such a strong reaction from me, specifically thriller titles.

Something else I felt was interesting was the discourse the book tried to initiate. The majority of the tale centres on the ghastly nature of rape and sexual violence, including paedophilia, and how the way these crimes are perceived across class and racial boundaries impact how they’re treated by the authorities (e.g.: a wealthy white family is more likely to receive assistance from a police officer than a poor, Black family living in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood). I found the attempt at making such commentary to be the strongest point of the book because it’s a subject that needs more attention brough to it. Nevertheless, the fact that almost all of the comments and contemplations surrounding this particular topic are made by non-poor white people significantly decreases their authenticity and effects of said discourse. It’s like watching rich people make judgments on what it’s like being poor when they have absolutely no idea what those experiences entail. The effort is there but the execution is hollow and utterly pointless if it’s not coming from the voices that are being influenced by such experiences.

The last thing I want to mention is the representation of severe dyslexia. The series’ title character, Will Trent, has dyslexia and it significantly affects the ways that he engages with the materials he needs to as a special agent. This is the absolute greatest aspect in all of Triptych. I have dyslexia and it took me years to figure out how to live with it. Fortunately, I even learned how to become a reader with my condition. But Mr Trent’s challenges with dyslexia are far more intense and the way it’s depicted in the book was phenomenal. I loved that it portrayed how it made him feel about himself, yet it still didn’t diminish his intelligence, professionalism, or anything else. I mean, the insecurity and feelings of inadequacy are there, but at the same time, he works hard to fight through them, and I related to that quite deeply as a person with dyslexia. This quote does a terrific job of putting it into perspective:

“In a rare moment of candour, he had once told her that being in a library was like sitting down at a table laid with all his favourite foods but not being able to eat any of them. And he hated himself for it.”

Overall, Triptych is a good crime thriller with a handful of shortcomings that prevent it from being fabulously mind-blowing. It is superbly dark and twisted and has a laundry list of content warnings (listed below), so I don’t recommend this to people that do not like to read descriptions of brutal crimes in graphic details or folx that aren’t too familiar with the crime thriller genre. I do recommend it, however, to readers that enjoy works by Karin Slaughter and are interested in checking some of her earlier titles, and also for folx that are searching for a decidedly mindfuckery of a read to dive into overall.

Publication Date: 2006
Publisher: Bantam Dell (ISBN 9780440242925)
Genre: Crime Thriller, Mystery
Series: Will Trent #1
Page Count: 480
Content Warnings: Heavy cursing. Racial slurs. Fatphobic dialogue. Sexism. Misogyny. Paedophilia (descriptions on and off the page). Statutory rape. Graphic scenes of forced sodomy. Graphic scene of attempted rape (on page). Mention of rape. Murder. Graphic descriptions of body mutilation. Child abuse (physical and sexual). Lifelong trauma from abuse (PTSD). Alcohol and substance consumption. Death of loved ones (cancer).
GoodReads: Triptych by Karin Slaughter

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2 thoughts on “Triptych by Karin Slaughter: A Rough-Hewn First Book in a Lengthy Crime Thriller Series – Book Review

  1. I agree with your criticism. This is one reason I’m a bit off Karin Slaughter at the moment. Although she doesn’t shy away from writing about some hard things, she does it from a viewpoint that perhaps she can’t help – that of a privileged upper class white who looks down and tut tuts over the poor underprivileged. Makes me want to suggest she check under the veneer of civilization of her own class – speaking as an upper middle class child who was extremely abused and received no assistance because, of course, that sort of thing doesn’t happen in nice families. And if it does, then we will all be “civilized” and pretend it isn’t happening even in the face of evidence. So I guess, really, it’s more of a personal quirk and yeah, more or less a trigger for me more so than the depictions of rape and so on listed as triggers! I know I’m not alone, and in fact, it’s possible that the incidence of child abuse is as high in upper class families as it is in lower class families. As always, the lack of reporting, and the lack of action on reports makes it difficult to know. Overall, her writing is quite good. Some people are better than others at stepping out of their own little clique or social class. And she is certainly doing good work by writing books that can be read by that social class that might bring them some greater understanding of these important issues. But it makes me feel a little like… I know what the caged lion feels like at the zoo with all those people staring and pointing…

    • Her hometown is Atlanta, Georgia and she’s a wealthy white woman living there, so her perception on class structure and racism and all of that is definitely skewed. This book really makes that super obvious, which made me cringe and curse a lot. I won’t lie lol. I feel her recent novels are much better, but her stories always revolve the wealthy white masses (as does a lot of the thriller genre, sadly) and reading this book and learning of her roots really helps to put a lot of her writing into more perspective for me. I agree with everything you said.

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