Broken, By Karin Slaughter Century, £18.99

Gripped by a murder most horrid
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The Independent Culture

Choose an author as you choose a friend, said Lord Roscommon. But such strictures would hardly apply if the author were Karin Slaughter. No doubt she is kind to her relatives and strokes small animals in the street, but her books? They are anything but friendly. The creator of such titles as Blindsighted and Kisscut is comfortably ahead of the pack in the art of flesh-creeping. What's more, she clearly regards each new book as a challenge in terms of inducing terror in the terror, as her latest, Broken, proves.

We're back in the company of former Grant County medical examiner Sara Linton, up to her elbows in blood, comme d'habitude. A woman's body is found in the waters of Lake Grant, and a note discovered nearby suggests that the death is a suicide – but Sara quickly decides it isn't.

The prime suspect in the murder makes a frantic plea to see Sara, but when she arrives at his cell in the local police station, she is confronted with grim news. Tommy Braham, whom she had known as a little boy, is dead. He has been badly beaten, and both of his wrists are slashed open. On the wall, written in his blood, are the words "Not me".

Sara grows suspicious of the detective in charge of the case, Lena Adams, and contacts the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Its special agent Will Trent finds his vacation cut short in order to aid Sara, but then both of them find that a vicious killer is protected by an implacable wall of non-co-operation that the cloistered community of Grant County has built around itself.

In the UK, a certain reaction against notably violent female writers such as Karin Slaughter and Tess Gerritsen is building up a head of steam, and no doubt Broken will be ammunition for those critics who prefer crime fiction that leaves the reader stirred but not shaken. Those of us not hindered by such compunctions can safely negotiate the unsettling Slaughter universe with the comforting knowledge that pulse rates will be pleasurably accelerated. But there is more to this writer than the mayhem her surname suggests – her own upbringing in a small town in southern Georgia is something Slaughter parleys into multi-faceted, highly persuasive portraits of a community not at ease with itself. She may not be an author you choose as a friend, but she's still bloody good company.