One novella, two short stories. All utterly unexpected – not least because I’d grabbed this anthology thinking it was by one of my favourite Scandinavian authors, Karin Fossum. Oops. Instead, the writer is another famous name in crime-thrillers, Karin Slaughter. Easy mistake to make… although their books are radically different. Fossum’s idiosyncratic police procedural featuring Inspector Sejer ranks among the very best Norwegian noir. Slaughter’s extremely successful commercial mainstream thrillers are set in her native America. Typically I read any/everything by Fossum, and would only pick up a Slaughter book if it was a very long flight and my kindle had just suffered a conniption fit.
Hence my surprise at how much I enjoyed Three Twisted Stories, especially the longest of them, Go Deep. It’s a wickedly witty depiction of justified retribution visited upon an utterly deserving, thoroughly despicable, unreconstructed chauvinist pig. Set three or four decades ago, Go Deep is told from the perspective of Charlie Lam – a crook, a cheat, a bully and a bit of a brute. Lam is a coward at heart; a misanthrope as much as he is a misogynist. Slaughter deftly draws a portrait of his blustering, egocentric existence, and then drives a cart and horses straight through it.
A less inventive author might’ve chosen to deliver Lam’s come-uppance in purely physical terms, but Slaughter neatly introduces a surreal, otherworldly angle to the action and plays with the nature of perception. You’ll need to read it yourself to experience the twist; along the way you’ll encounter explicit scenes of a sexual nature and some risqué writing of the type I’d never before associated Karin Slaughter. This is weird and a little bit warped: no wonder I liked it.
Necessary Women is equally perverse, but it’s a third of the length so it’s a more typical short story shocker. The characters are less well developed: essentially it’s a carefully choreographed example of backwoods noir where the reader is led by the nose to a sudden ending which has the eye-watering impact of a sudden slap in the face. Again, not for the easily offended.
The final tale was my least favourite although it’s a tour de force in stylised stunt-writing. It’s also the most lighthearted of the trio, where the story of mystery, murder and malfeasance are ditzily delivered by a character who’d feel right at home in a Janet Evanovich romp. It’s a total page-turner, too, where the episodic nature of the narrator’s reports keeps the reader galloping onwards. Yet while I admired the undoubted technical merit of the writing, this story and these characters didn’t engage me.
Still, two out of three ain’t bad. Especially as I was expecting something entirely otherwise from a completely different Karin…
This means I may well look again at Karin Slaughter’s full length novels, which is probably the purpose of this collection. However, I can’t help wondering whether her more regular fans will enjoy these twisted little tales; they’re a lot more odd than the last procedural I read of hers.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Three Twisted Stories by Karin Slaughter is available as an ebook