Investigator Will Trent returns in the latest installment of Karin Slaughter’s popular series, and is joined by medical examiner Sara Linton. Together, they must stop a mysterious group of domestic terrorists who are planning to unleash a deadly epidemic.
On a serene summer Sunday, a routine admission for a run-of-the-mill surgery at Atlanta’s Emory Hospital goes tragically wrong and sets off a catastrophic wave of destruction. The facility and surrounding area are placed on lockdown. One of the city’s largest and most prestigious institutions, Emory is situated near the Centers for Disease Control, the FBI’s counter-terrorism headquarters, and a large children’s hospital. Anything that happens there has repercussions for the entire city, the state of Georgia, and, potentially, the nation.
A few miles away, medical examiner Sara Linton is enduring an awkward lunch with her mother, her aunt, and her boyfriend, Will Trent, an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The sudden wail of sirens blaring in the distance cuts the uncomfortable get-together short as Sara and Will race to the scene.
Both Sara and Will are seasoned public servants trained to respond to emergency situations. Dedicated and courageous, they run toward crises while others run from them. But on this particular summer day, their instincts and training lead them into danger. Within an hour the situation at Emory has spiraled out of control, Sara has been taken hostage, and Will must go undercover. In addition to Sara’s, thousands of other innocent lives are at stake.
That “routine admission” at Emory was just the opening maneuver in a perilous game of hunter and prey that leads Will out of Atlanta into the Appalachians to a remote compound. A radical group plan to set a diabolical plan in place that will result in murder on a massive scale if it isn’t stopped.
The Last Widow is a terrifyingly plausible thriller.
Karin Slaughter can always be counted on to deliver a fast-paced, inventive, and often timely thriller. And her ninth installment in her popular series featuring Will Trent is no exception.
As the story opens, Will and Sara have taken their relationship to the next level. Although they are not officially living together, they spend all of their time at either Sara’s place or Will’s. Much to the consternation of Sara’s mother, Cathy, who has not yet updated her father, Eddie. A muggy August afternoon finds Will mowing the expansive lawn at the home of Sara’s aunt and anticipating lunch with the family. Suddenly, those plans are scuttled when one explosion is followed closely by another. Phone lines are jammed, preventing Will from getting an update from his colleagues so he runs toward the plume of smoke, with Sara close behind in her vehicle.
But they encounter a three-car vehicle collision which is highly suspicious. The men in the second and third vehicles are entirely too forthcoming with information, including their first names — Dwight, Hank, Merle, Vince, and Clint. Their pseudonyms are based upon country music legends Dwight Yoakam, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Vince Gill, and Clint Black. In one of the cars is none other than Michelle Spivey, the CDC scientist who was kidnapped two months prior. Michelle has clearly been abused, and appears broken. When the men learn that Sara is a doctor, they abduct her as her horrified mother watches and Will, having been brutally beaten, is unable to stop them.
In Slaughter’s latest tautly-constructed thriller, it soon becomes apparent that those men are part of a much larger, organized network of terrorists with a deadly agenda. transported, along with Michelle, to a remote location, Sara soon realizes that the man called Dwight is the leader — Dash, a mannered but dangerous fanatic devoted to delivering his “Message” — “excruciating, unforgiving death” — to the nation and its citizens. It soon becomes apparent that Dash and his colleagues are part of a paramilitary, white nationalist group known as the Invisible Patriot Army (IPA) whose activities the FBI has been monitoring online and elsewhere. Dash did not found the group but he is the shot-caller, and his leadership has brought focus and organization to the group. Are they somehow connected to Martin Novak, a bank robber who is being held in high-security, protective custody pending sentencing? And if so, how?
Will’s injuries are serious, but there is no time for him to recover. His mentor and boss, Amanda, is leading the investigation and giving direction to Faith, Will’s partner. Amanda and Faith’s mother were partners and best friends. Amanda literally saved Will from a life of crime when he was just eighteen years old. She pushed him to attend college and forced him to join the GBI. Amanda “made it possible for Will to be the kind of man who could be with a woman like Sara.” Indeed, the deep connections between Slaughter’s characters extend to Sara, their colleague and Faith’s best friend. A single parent of a twenty-year-old son and two-year-old daughter, Faith notes that, after her mother, Sara, a former pediatrician, is the person she most trusts to care for her young child.
Sara is held captive at a compound where Dash’s associates are engaging in repetitive drills designed to prepare them to breach a secure facility. The compound is populated by women, including Dash’s wife, Gwen, and young girls, all of whom dress in long white dresses. There are only very young boys there, but no male teenagers. And Dash presses Sara into service, claiming that many in the camp have fallen victim to a measles outbreak. Most of them are children and Sara must, of course, attempt to help them, but is baffled when they don’t respond to treatment. Is it really measles that they are suffering from . . . or something else? And is their mysterious illness somehow related to Dash’s plan?
Slaughter’s novels are always meticulously researched, bringing authenticity and credibility to her stories, and the frightening plot of The Last Widow could be a contemporary headline. Her books are not for the squeamish. The realistic story includes violence and heartbreaking deaths. The book’s pace is relentless, with each new revelation spurring her characters to act quickly as it becomes increasingly clear that Dash will set his plan in motion very soon. The interplay between the various agencies — GBI, FBI, and CDC — demonstrates the territoriality and lack of cooperation that can characterize the relationships between bureaucracies. As always, Slaughter’s dialogue is crisp, believable, and sometimes hilarious, emphasizing the deep bonds her characters share.
At the center of the story is the deepening relationship between Will and Sara. Their pasts have caused them to proceed cautiously and at the outset, Sara is, at times, frustrated by the difficulty Will has opening up and communicating his feelings to her. With Sara in grace danger, and Will feeling guilty that he was unable to prevent her abduction, he fully evaluates his feelings for her just as she does while confined for seemingly endless hours in the cabin at the compound where Dash is holding her. Their relationship, in Slaughter’s capable hands, is endearing, charming, and believable.
The Last Widow is a gripping, contemporary thriller that is likely to cause readers to pay more attention the next time there is a story in the headlines about racist cults. She convincingly demonstrates that we could all be in serious danger, and not realize it until it’s too late. Set aside time to read The Last Widow because once you start reading, you won’t be able to quit until you reach the satisfying conclusion.
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