“The Last Widow” is the newest book in the Will Trent series by Karin Slaughter. If you haven’t read the previous books in the series, don’t let that fact stop you from reading this one because it reads like a stand-alone novel. Be forewarned that after you finish it, you will probably want to start the series at the beginning and read all about Will Trent and Sara Linton.
The book starts with a prologue describing the kidnapping of Michelle Spivey, a researcher with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) by an unknown man. A month later, the primary plot begins with Sara and Will at her aunt’s mansion. Sara is inside with her mother and aunt, and Will is mowing the three acres and dealing with the August heat in Georgia.
Just as he finishes mowing the grounds, Sara comes to bring him in for a lovely big Southern lunch when the ground shakes, and moments later an emergency siren goes off. As Will and Sara make their way toward Emory University, where the siren is located, they encounter a group of cars which have been in an accident. Sara stops to offer medical help as she is a doctor, and Will stays to help. Sara immediately suspects something isn’t quite right, but before Will can do anything to protect her, she’s kidnapped by the occupants of two of the cars who seem, strangely, like military operatives or law enforcement.
The third main character is Faith Mitchell, Sara’s best friend and Will’s partner at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, where they both are investigators and where Sara works as a medical examiner. The story is told in third person narrative from these three people’s points of view, and as the story progresses, we learn a lot about them.
Slaughter deftly gives the reader what seems like a complete background on the relationships between the three and on Sara and Will’s romance. Will’s childhood and Sara’s upbringing could not be any more different. While Will grew up in a group home and witnessed abuse in his childhood, Sara grew up with wealthy parents and many visits with her much loved Aunt Bella, who lives in a huge Georgian mansion. Sara’s parents are very protective of her, and they don’t think Will is the right man for their daughter.
But each of these three characters, Sara, Will, and Faith, are likable, real, and individual. All have their strengths and their weaknesses, and all do the best that they can in the horrible circumstances that unfold in this story.
A white terrorist group is responsible for the kidnapping of both women and the bombs that set off the alarm at Emory University. They kidnapped Sara and took her to their mountain retreat, where the women and children wear long white homespun dresses and the men wear military gear and guns. Ostensibly, there was a measles outbreak, but Sara suspects that what is making the children and some adults sick is not measles at all, yet she can’t figure out what it is.
Will is determined to go undercover to rescue Sara and save the world from what the maniacs have planned. Will, however, was hurt during the incident when Sara was kidnapped, and whether he will be able to help is questionable. Sara is left not knowing where she is, without any way of communicating with the outside world, and in the hands of a madman. Faith is desperately trying to figure out what is going on so that she can save her partner and her best friend.
And here’s where the story gets even more interesting. Slaughter carefully uses current events and recent shootings to create an imaginary group of terrorists that is led by twisted men who use the Constitution and the feelings of inferiority of many men to create a dedicated army of terrorists willing to kill and create chaos for their perverse cause.
Faith is working with the FBI, who are cooperating with the GBI, and when she asks them why they would help send a GBI agent — Will — undercover on an FBI investigation, the FBI agent answers, “We can’t get the resources. The current climate at the Bureau dictates that white Christian males can’t be terrorists.” His superior is not happy he voiced that truth. It becomes clear that the paramilitary group is planning something big. So big that the person in charge, Dash, brags no one will ever know exactly how many died because of it.
We become infuriated each time we hear the racist, misogynist babble from the group claiming that the “Message” they are sending “will make it clear that the white man will not be conquered. Not by any other race. Not by a certain type of woman. Not by anyone or anything.” Dash refers to people with different color skin as “mongrels.” He speaks about everything that every student learns in school, but twists it. “We give the mongrels schools and they want white schools. We let them ride the bus and they want to sit in the front. We pay them to entertain us and they try to shove their opinions down our damn throats.”
Slaughter doesn’t mince words. She makes this group and its leaders thoroughly repugnant. The horrors they commit, the ideology they espouse, the lack of any remnant of compassion or kindness makes them truly monsters. And we don’t want them to win.
Slaughter also makes us wonder: why doesn’t the FBI do more about hate groups? And she gives us a possible answer. We learn about white supremacist groups and mass murderers, and how after Charlottesville, groups of white supremacists got energized; and that perhaps the FBI doesn’t want another Waco or Ruby Ridge. Slaughter reminds readers that both incidents were public relations disasters for the federal government, and they, in turn, inspired more violence and bombings. Slaughter also reminds readers of the unfairness with which government agencies treat minorities.
“At the Bundy standoff, militiamen pointed guns at federal agents, and they were allowed to walk away. At Standing Rock, a bunch of Native American protesters were shouting and holding up signs, and they got attacked by dogs and shot with water cannons.”
In our world, getting to escape from the current reality by reading about Will, Sara, and Faith and how they struggle to save others and protect civilians is a pleasure. It’s a double treasure when we also learn more about reasons behind government actions and are forced to wonder just how much Slaughter made up and how much is true.
As always, Slaughter perfectly balances a bit of romance, friendship, and lots and lots of action in “The Last Widow.” You’ll have a hard time putting this book down, and once you finish it, you’ll be hooked on the series.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, HarperCollins, for review purposes.