Grant County, Georgia
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Grant County, Georgia is a fictional place used for the settings of Karin Slaughter's novels. The main characters in these novels are Sara Linton, Jeffrey Tolliver, and Lena Adams. The Grant County books are Blindsighted, Kisscut, A Faint Cold Fear, Indelible, Faithless, and Beyond Reach. (Additional titles may have been used outside of the US market.) Over 17 million Karin Slaughter novels have been sold worldwide, and they have been translated into 30 languages.
Main characters in the Grant County books
Sara Linton is the pediatrician and coroner for the town of Heartsdale, in rural Grant County, Georgia. She was born in Heartsdale at the Grant Medical Center and grew up in the town. An excellent student, in middle school she developed an interest in science and was able to get college-level tutoring from some of the professors at the local technological university. Sara went to Robert E. Lee High School, where, due to her intelligence and hard work, she finished a year early. She spent her teenage summers working for her father's plumbing business, Linton & Daughters, and as a result is still an accomplished plumber. She could have gone into the family business but a fear of spider-ridden crawl spaces and the desire for challenge took her off to school amid the bright lights and big city excitement of Atlanta.
Sara attended Emory University on scholarship and obtained her medical degree, and also ran track. After college, she served her medical internship at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, one of the largest hospitals in the world, then became a pediatric resident there. During one of her shifts at the hospital she was savagely attacked in the restroom, raped, and left for dead. Her assailant was caught and imprisoned, and after the trial Sara returned to Heartsdale. He mailed her and his other victims mocking postcards annually for the next dozen years. The rape resulted in an ectopic pregnancy which led to a partial hysterectomy, and Sara can never have children.
Back in her home town, Sara began working at the Heartsdale Children's Clinic for Dr. Barney, the owner. A year later she took on the coroner's position to earn extra money so she could buy him out when he retired. She decided to keep the coroner job even after she'd paid Dr. Barney off because it helped combat the drudgery of day-in and day-out earaches and sore throats at the clinic.
Sara was the doctor for the high school football team, and was on the sideline during a game when she first met Jeffrey Tolliver, the new chief of police. Though he had a reputation for being a ladies' man, he took her breath away, but she played it cool and he was immediately interested. They dated, fell in love, and were married in a small ceremony in the living room of her parents' home. They had been married for six years when she came home and found him in bed with the town's sign painter, and Sara filed for divorce the next day. She had never told him about the rape.
Sara and Jeffrey were divorced for two years, but he never stopped loving her, nor she him, though she tried to. Then they were brought together by the murder of Sibyl Adams (in Blindsighted), the twin sister of Jeffrey's best detective, Lena Adams. During the course of the investigation, when she was at an emotional low, Sara went to Jeffrey for comfort and revealed the details of her rape to him. They began to reconnect, then dated, and over three years and five books she watched him grow and change from the man he had been, and (around Indelible) she realized she wanted him back in her life. They were married for a second time (between Faithless and Beyond Reach, the latter of which is titled Skin Privilege in the UK) and shortly after applied to adopt a child. Six months after their wedding they received word that they would become the parents of a nine-month-old boy. Only minutes later Jeffrey was killed in an explosion.
Sara is tall, has dark auburn hair and emerald green eyes, and is slim yet curvaceous. She has perfect skin, a great smile, and a biting wit. She's extremely intelligent, fiercely independent, aloof, and seldom opens up to people. She is controlled and rarely cries. She likes BMWs, loves her family, loves children, and has two greyhounds that she rescued. She's a terrible dancer, a heavy sleeper, a horrible housekeeper, and she can't cook. She often dresses sloppily yet comfortably. She has a gentle heart and feet that are so big when she goes out in public mothers pull their children in off the street so they won't get smushed.
Sara's family is an important, loving anchor in her life, an ever-present shelter from whatever storm she's currently weathering. Her parents live on the shores of Lake Grant across the water from Sara, who also lives on the lake. Her sister Tessa lives with them, in the apartment over their garage.
Her mother, Cathy Linton, is religious, opinionated and often disapproving, sometimes overbearingly intrusive and hypercritical. She's also devoted, omniscient, eternally worried about Sara, pragmatic, and never a source of bad maternal advice. Cathy is blonde and blue-eyed and beautiful, sexy and petite. She keeps her figure slim by doing yoga. She's witty and down to earth, as gracious or cutting as the prevailing situation demands.
Eddie Linton, Sara's father, owns Linton & Daughters Plumbing, which he operates with her sister. He wanted Sara to join the family business, but to his disappointment she became a doctor instead. Eddie hated Jeffrey, but eventually came to accept him, albeit grudgingly, while Jeffrey grudgingly admits that Eddie is the kind of father he wishes he had. Eddie tells bad jokes, swears mercilessly while he's working on a job, and is a shrewd real estate investor, owning several properties around the lake, an apartment complex in Madison, and rental units in Florida.
Tessa is Sara's baby sister, a fact that she ruthlessly exploits in their relationship. Tessa takes after Cathy physically, thin and blonde. In school Sara was envious of Tessa, seeing her as the popular and pretty one, the cheerleader, while she was the tall one, maybe on a good day the redheaded one. Tessa's selfish and immature, which she happily admits, and likes her an amorous peccadillo from time to time.
Farther out in the family orbit are cousin Hareton and aunt Isabella. Bella is a hard partyer with a penchant for younger men who travels with her own stock of liquor and visits infrequently, as she hates Grant County. She resides in Atlanta and Sara lived with her for a short period when she was at Emory but Bella's lifestyle didn't mesh well with the rigors of medical school. Cousin Hare lives in Grant County, where he's also a doctor and has always been fiercely competitive with Sara. He's flamboyant and dramatic, and very funny. Much to Sara's chagrin, he rarely takes anything seriously.
Jeffrey Tolliver was the chief of police of Grant County, and Sara Linton's husband(twice). He was born and grew up in the small town of Sylacauga, Alabama, famous for its white marble, producing Jim Nabors, and the first documented case of a person being struck by a meteorite. He was the son of Jimmy and May Tolliver, the former an abusive drunk and the latter an abused drunk. As a child Jeffrey often stepped in between to try to shield his mother, and this in part later led him to become a cop—the need to protect the weak and vulnerable. Jimmy was also a small-time criminal, a perpetual loser, and eventually went to prison for good, where he died. May is still in Sylacauga, watching life go by through the bottom of a glass.
As a child, Jeffrey was ashamed of his circumstances — his poverty, his clothes, his home, his father, the townsfolk assuming he was trash and trouble — and looked forward to the day he would be able to leave Sylacauga. Most of his history is learned in Kisscut and Indelible, such as: his two best friends growing up were Robert Blankenship, nicknamed Spot because of facial blemishes in his early teens, and Jerry Long, nicknamed Possum because of his behavior after a fireworks mishap. Jeffrey was eventually nicknamed Slick when his prowess with the opposite sex became apparent. As kids, they got into more than their share of trouble. Because of this, and being his father's son, Jeffrey was well-known to the local police force, and they gave him quite a bit of attention at the behest of the sheriff, Clayton "Hoss" Hollister, who made Jeffrey his special project to keep him from turning out like his old man. It worked, and ultimately Hoss became his mentor and Jeffrey entered law enforcement.
Jeffrey was a very talented football player in high school and helped lead his team to the state championship as a receiver. From there he went on to play for Auburn University and got to go to the Sugar Bowl, but he spent a lot of time on the bench, never really achieving excellence at the college level though he did love history and that was his major, only he dropped out two quarters before getting his degree. Before he was to graduate his father was sent to prison for life, and at Hoss's urging, Jeffrey entered the police academy. After leaving the academy he spent the first 10 years of his career on the force in Birmingham, Alabama. From there he took the job as police chief of Grant County, replacing the subpar Ben Walker. Two weeks into the job he hired Lena Adams, whom he handpicked straight out of the academy in Macon, to be the first woman on the force who wasn't a secretary. By the time Beyond Reach / Skin Privilege takes place, Jeffrey's been the chief in Grant for 16 years. He's been shot twice in the line of duty, one time not seriously, the other almost killing him. The only time he fired his weapon at someone else was when he had to shoot a 13-year-old girl to keep her from killing another teenager, something which left him feeling guilty for the rest of his life.
Though their first meeting was often alluded to, it was never revealed how Jeffrey met Sara until Slaughter put a bonus chapter on her website as a gift to readers after 'Beyond Reach / Skin Privilege. While doing a meet-and-greet at one of the local high school's football games after he was first hired, Jeffrey introduced himself to Sara and was so mesmerized he cancelled a date he had that night with a voluptuous stewardess in Atlanta. He found Sara's intelligence, laugh, penetrating green eyes, sloppy dress, and modesty to be incredibly sexy, and though he realized she'd require much more effort on his part than he usually had to put forth, he was hooked. They started dating and though Jeffrey was initially in it for the sexual conquest, he fell for her hard, and she fell in love with him, and they were married.
After Jeffrey and Sara were divorced but before they remarried, he found out he had a teenage son that he wasn't aware of. In high school Jeffrey and Darnell had dated off and on, but when he left for Auburn they agreed to see other people. Still, he was taken aback when she married one of his best friends a month after he left. And when Nell gave birth eight months farther on, he was slightly miffed when he realized she had been fooling around on him, but he also knew things just wouldn't have worked out between them. It didn't dawn on him that it was his child and his friend had stepped in for him. For her part, Nell never told Jeffrey because she knew he would have come back to marry her, and she also realized it would've been a joyless marriage. Ironically, his son Jared is a huge Alabama fan.
After the events in Beyond Reach, Jeffrey and Sara return home to find that their application for adoption has been approved. They are to receive a nine-month-old baby into their care that they have been hoping for. Moments later, while getting the mail from the mailbox, the box explodes causing catastrophic wounds to Jeffrey. He dies while still laying in the street with Sara holding him.
Jeffrey was 6'2" tall, with a lean runner's build, blue eyes, and dark good looks. Before he met Sara, he was quite the lothario. He liked women and they liked him; he lost his virginity when he was 12. He had superb penmanship and was a great dancer and excellent marksman. He hated lima beans and is obsessively orderly. He's stubborn, honest, thoughtful, sticks up for the underdog, and felt responsible for the safety of everyone in Grant County. According to Sara, he was "a good man." And we all know they're hard to find.
Lena Adams is one of Jeffrey's detectives on the Grant County police force. She was angry, aggressive, and conflicted; cocky and confrontational. She was rebellious and had trouble following orders. She had a chip on her shoulder which got worse over the series.
Lena is about 5'4" and 120 pounds. She has olive skin and dark brown hair, inherited from her Mexican grandmother. Lena and her twin sister Sibyl were born in the poor town of Reese in Elawah County, Georgia. Reese is referenced in Beyond Reach / Skin Privilege. Their father, Calvin Adams, was a police officer who was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop three months after marrying their mother Angela. A few weeks after the funeral Angela realized she was pregnant; her closest relative, brother Hank Norton, wasn't much help since he was a drug addict and alcoholic. Hank always told everyone that when Angela died from an infection after giving birth, and he took in her daughters, he cleaned up and found God. In reality he only quit the drugs, and kept on drinking for eight years. One day when he was on a binge and the girls were playing ball in the front yard, Lena watched in horror as the bumper of Hank's backing car struck Sibyl in the temple when she chased an errant throw across the driveway. She was blinded for life, and that's when Hank gave up drinking. Though Sibyl forgave him, Lena never did.
As the years went by, Lena acted as Sibyl's eyes, something she credited with making her a good detective later, and worked hard to help Sibyl become independent. As the girls grew up, Hank doted on Sibyl but rode Lena hard, and she rebelled accordingly. She cast about for approval and attention from anyone but Hank, and made some poor decisions, among them hanging out with a bad crowd and sleeping with a man in his 20s when she was only 15.
Right out of high school Lena joined the police academy in Macon, where her tenacity and toughness caught the eye of Jeffrey Tolliver, who hired her for the Grant County police force. This was fortuitous as Sibyl already worked as a professor at Grant Institute of Technology, in the same town. Lena made detective in only eight years, when she became the youngest person (at 33) and only woman on the senior squad. She was teamed up with Frank Wallace, a male chauvinist two years from retirement who didn't think women had any business being on the force, much less being partnered with him. Predictably, they butted heads at every turn, but also developed a grudging respect for each other.
Sibyl, who was gay, lived with her lover Nan Thomas, something Lena was never comfortable with and was selfishly homophobic in regards to the loving couple. She never spoke with Sybil about it. Then at the beginning of the Grant County series, Sybil was raped and murdered in the local diner. Lena was devastated, obliterated by loss and guilt. Her life felt like it no longer had meaning. Hank came up from Reese to help out as best he could, and though they remained combative and wary, they also came to realize how much they needed each other. Lena's only respite was in working the case, but she was dangerously close to the edge; then a major plot development occurred which was emotionally crushing, and Jeffrey made her take some time off. Could things get any worse? Absolutely. She was kidnapped and tortured by her sister's killer.
After that, Lena tried to stay afloat in a nightmarish cocktail of emotional and physical agony: guilt, shame, self-loathing, fear, anxiety, revulsion, dyspepsia, alcoholism, loss of confidence, suicidal tendencies, you name it. Her only balm was work, but after refusing Jeffrey's orders to seek counseling she quit the force and joined campus security for a short while, which is mostly seen in A Faint Cold Fear. Jeffrey was one of three people who never gave up on her (the other were her Uncle Hank and Nan Thomas) because he knew what it was like to have no one in your corner, and she eventually got her old job back.
Unfortunately she had become involved with an extremely dangerous, abusive, ex-con neo-Nazi named Ethan Green who's on her like a bad rash in the next four books. This happened on a vector of self-destruction that was laid at her feet by previous events; she could no more stop it than fly to the moon. She initiated the relationship and even to some extent escalated its most sordid elements; by the time she fully recognized the danger she was in, it was too late. She was mired and he would not let her go. She framed him on a parole violation charge and he went back to prison, but he is almost as dangerous within as without.
Additional characters in the Grant County books
Buddy Conford - Grant County's most tenacious defense attorney, Buddy does a lot of public defender work. They say some men are the sum of their parts, Buddy's more like the minus. He lost a leg to a car accident, an eye to cancer, and a kidney to a disgruntled client who chose to pay his bill with bullets. Buddy's obviously a survivor, and he's tough as nails. Though often reviled by the local cops, if any of them got into trouble he's the one they would call. He's honest and fair and has helped Jeffrey on several occasions. There's a humorous aside in Kisscut involving Buddy that is a nod to one of the great Flannery O'Connor's short stories, and Faithless gives the reader a glimpse into his complicated family life.
Nan Thomas - Lover and roommate of Lena's murdered sister, Sibyl, Nan is the school librarian at Grant Tech. At first, Lena hated and resented Nan, partly because she was ashamed of her sister's homosexuality, partly because she was jealous of having to share her sister's affection. Ironically, after the murder Nan and Lena became friends, then roommates, and Nan is now one of the few people within Lena's comfort zone (such as it is), in part because of shared memories of Sibyl. Nan is dorky and gentle and homey; there was a time Lena might have described her as mousy, but that was before she questioned Nan's love for Sibyl and received a verbal thrashing of epic proportion.
Frank Wallace - One of the older detectives on the force, Frank has been in Grant County his entire career. The chief's job was his for the taking, but Frank saw that times were changing and didn't covet a leadership position in the fight against criminal modernism, the encroachment of newer, deadlier drugs and gang activity and their accompanying horrors. Frank won't retire, though he could, and his lot has not been easy, being partnered with Lena for most of her career. Since Lena is Lena and Frank is an old-school sexist, there have been fireworks aplenty.
Brad Stephens - When first we meet Brad, he's really just a kid, a junior patrolman on the Grant County police force. He's not taken very seriously and often given scut work. Other cops steal his patrolman's hat and place it in prominent places around town, like on the heads of statues. But though Brad begins building his career on conspicuous earnestness and honesty, he soon proves his mettle with bravery, toughness, and unselfish heroics.
Nick Shelton - Georgia Bureau of Investigation's (GBI) good old boy field agent for Grant County, he is constantly working with Jeffrey and Sara on cases. Eminently capable, Nick has made a point of asking Sara out several times during her separation from Jeffrey—partly because he's interested, but probably also partly just to get Jeffrey's back up. Since he's only five-foot-six and wears more gold jewelry than Mr.T, he's not quite Sara's type. Sometime before Indelible, Nick becomes involved with Sara's nurse, Molly Stoddard.
Carlos Quiñonez - Sara's uncomplaining and efficient assistant at the morgue. Carlos handles all of the "less glamorous" things that must be done in an autopsy—arranging the tools, taking notes, rinsing and weighing organs, x-rays, cataloguing samples, and most important, cleanup. Carlos is short and round and keeps his mouth shut about confidential matters. Sara hired him right out of high school and even though she's known him for a long time, she knows very little about him.
Nelly Morgan - Nelly is the office manager of the Heartsdale Children's Clinic. She's held that position since Sara was a child.
Molly Stoddard - Sara's nurse at the children's clinic, she's been there a long time, too. She's a handsome, compact woman, the mother of two children who's always impeccably dressed in her starched white nurse's uniform. She is brave and unselfish, volunteering to enter the hostage situation with Lena in Indelible, disguised as a paramedic offering medical assistance. Also during Indelible it is revealed that she is romantically involved with GBI agent Nick Shelton.
Elliot Felteau - The other doctor at the clinic. Sara hired him right out of his residency at Augusta Hospital; he's eager and wants to eventually buy into a partnership. But he's not helping his chances by always stealing other people's sodas, frozen dinners, and ice cream bars out of the office refrigerator.
Jimmy Powell - One of Sara's patients, he is diagnosed with myeloblastic leukemia when he is only 12 years old. Over the course of the series, Sara is tortured by his agonizing demise, and when he finally dies, his now divorced parents instigate the type of specious lawsuit so common to today's litigious society. The parents of many of Sara's other patients, smelling blood in the water, join in, forcing the closure of her clinic and relegating Heartsdale to the pediatric wilderness, territory shared by much of the rest of rural America.
Marla Simms - Dispatcher/receptionist/secretary at the Grant County Police Station. Marla has taught children's Sunday school classes at the Primitive Baptist Church since around the time people started remembering the Alamo.
Matt Hogan - Another of the older detectives on the senior squad, Matt was Frank Wallace's partner back in the day and they're in the lodge together. More recently, he's often paired with Frank when Lena is being disciplined or kept on a short leash. Unfortunately, Frank is a racist.
Steve Mann - Owns the hardware store, which he took over from his father. Steve was the star quarterback on the high school football team and Sara's first real boyfriend; she gave up her virginity to him. He's married with children now but still harbors a crush for Sara since she was his first love.
Pete Wayne - Owner of the Grant Filling Station diner since Sara was a small child, he also took it over from his dad. Pete lives in Madison and is a very considerate guy, but it is revealed in Blindsighted that he's an ungrateful bigot when it comes to black people. The diner closed a little less than a year after Sibyl Adams was murdered there.
Jeb McGuire - Heartsdale's laid-back pharmacist and a good-looking guy. He and Sara dated off and on when he first moved to town before Sara met Jeffrey, and then they had a couple of dates after Sara and Jeffrey were divorced. He owns a boat but can't swim.
Betty Reynolds - Owns the Shop-o-Rama Five and Dime store.
Jill-June - Manages the Shop-o-Rama, likes to gossip and is locally notorious for an unfortunate choice of hair coloring. Lena refers to her as "the yellow-haired freak."
Marty Ringo - Checkout clerk at the pharmacy, also likes to gossip. Has a hairy mole on her forehead that could have been cast in Day of the Triffids.
Old Man Burgess - Elderly and hirsute of nostril and ear canal, Bill Burgess owns the dry cleaners. In Indelible he helps stop the shooters from escaping with his handy shotgun, but almost kills everyone on the street with ricocheting buckshot from trying to fire through bulletproof glass.
Dave Fine - Pastor of Crescent Baptist Church, where Brad Stephens, Matt Hogan, Hank Norton, and (occasionally) Lena attend services.
Kevin Black - Dean of Grant Institute of Technology.
Dan Brock - Owner of the funeral home and school friend of Sara Linton, lives with his mother, and inherited the funeral home when his father John Brock died.
Grant County book synopses
Blindsighted takes place over the seven days following Easter Sunday. Sara Linton serves double duty as pediatrician and coroner in the small Georgia town of Heartsdale. The latter continually brings her into contact with police chief Jeffrey Tolliver, who just happened to be her husband until they were divorced two years earlier after she caught him with another woman. Though Sara's loath to admit it she still has feelings for Jeffrey, and he's still in love with her. During a late lunch with her sister Tessa at the diner she's been eating in all her life, Sara goes to wash her hands and discovers Sibyl Adams, a blind professor at the local college, bleeding profusely in a toilet stall after being viciously attacked. Sara tries her best to save her but Sibyl dies. She was the twin sister of Lena Adams, Jeffrey's best detective, who has an antagonistic relationship with Sara and is hotheaded and prickly on her best days. The initial evidence indicates a ritualistic murderer who will continue to kill, and the autopsy uncovers shocking depravity and bizarre technique. As they race against time Sara also has to deal with a young patient named Jimmy Powell who's been diagnosed with leukemia, and ominous postcards connected to a horrendous event from her time in residency, while Lena tries to stay on the rails as she shoulders the crushing grief and guilt the death of her sister brought. There are more attacks and clue-revealing autopsies, racism rears its ugly head and claims a victim, and a chapter in Sara's past that is still being written converges in a finale that leaves Lena unalterably scarred for life in more ways than one.
Sara and Jeffrey have tentatively resumed their romantic relationship when, on a hot August night during the summer following Blindsighted, Jeffrey is forced to shoot a 13-year-old girl to stop her from killing another teenager. What at first appears to be an unwanted pregnancy and a jilting turned deadly spurs an investigation that reveals the presence of real-life monsters preying on the children of Grant County. During its course Jeffrey battles self-doubt and remorse over killing a child, and an impromptu trip back to his hometown of Sylacauga, Alabama offers up a major clue. Lena, who just returned to duty a month earlier following her torture at the hands of the man who murdered her beloved sister and terrorized Heartsdale, fights misplaced guilt and shame, battling suicidal tendencies and struggling to regain some minute sense of normalcy in her life. Even as she contemplates quitting the police, the only thing that provides her with relief is work, and as she immerses herself more and deeper into the case she finds an uncomfortable feeling of identification with one of its most damaged victims.
A Faint Cold Fear
While at the Dairy Queen with her pregnant sister Tessa, Sara is called to meet Jeffrey at the scene of an apparent suicide on campus property, a suicide they both later agree seems suspicious though they can't quite put their fingers on why. Tessa asks to go along and Sara, against her better judgment, allows it. As Sara is examining the body, Tessa walks into the woods to relieve herself. Also on hand are Lena, who's quit the force and now works for campus security, and her new boss, steroidal creep Chuck Gaines. Chuck identifies the victim as the son of two campus professors, a development sure to complicate the case exponentially for Jeffrey. When Tessa doesn't come out of the woods, a search finds her stabbed repeatedly and barely alive; she's airlifted to Grady Hospital in Atlanta. While Sara and her parents wait tensely by Tessa's bedside, Jeffrey and Lena work the case while at each other's throats over Lena's decision to quit the force. Another suicide occurs, more suspicious than the last, and as Lena spirals farther out of control with alcohol and drugs, she makes a fateful and perhaps fatal connection with student Ethan Green, who is not what he appears to be.
The story goes back and forth in time, from the beginnings of Sara and Jeffrey’s relationship to a hostage situation at the Grant County Police Station. After dating for a few months, Sara and Jeffrey head for the beaches of Florida for a few days. On their way Jeffrey makes a detour to Sylacauga, Alabama, to show her where he grew up and introduce her to his childhood friends, Robert and Possum and their wives. They plan to spend the night in Jeffrey's old bedroom but Sara's first meeting with his mother upsets her so, she dashes out into the street. When Jeffrey finally catches up to her, they hear a scream and gunshots coming from Robert's house. Jeffrey kicks in the door and finds a wounded Robert and his wife with a dead man in their bedroom, and their stories are conflicting and shaky. Sara and Jeffrey assist in the ensuing investigation and when it's finally resolved, Jeffrey finds that some of those closest to him during his past were not who he thought they were, and some of his deepest secrets are revealed to Sara. Fast forward to the present, where the Heartsdale Police Station is taken over in a murderous bloodbath by heavily armed gunmen, right in the middle of an elementary school field trip, and while Sara is there. A terrifying and tense hostage situation develops. Lena, back on the force now, on her birthday, and suspecting she's become pregnant by abusive boyfriend Ethan Green, is one of the few Grant County cops on the outside, not knowing who's dead and who's alive. What do the gunmen want? Who are they? Is this somehow related to the events in Sylacauga all those years ago?
Sara and Jeffrey have finally started to click again when a phone call from the woman he was unfaithful with drags their affair back into sharp relief. He and Sara are arguing about this on a walk in the woods when they make a grisly discovery, the corpse of a young woman who was buried alive in a wooden coffin. They assume her death was accidental, but the autopsy reveals that she was pregnant and had been murdered—while she was underground. The search for her identity leads Jeffrey and Lena to an organic soybean farming cooperative out in the sticks owned by a large, tightly knit, old-school and old-time-religious family, helmed by the charismatic oldest son. They import their labor force from the transients and ne'er-do-wells that populate Atlanta's shelters and halfway houses, facilitated through the family church's outreach program. At one time or another the case involves strippers, one-legged, one-eyed lawyer extraordinaire Buddy Conford, an abused woman Lena both identifies with and wants to save, and a frantic search to find more buried coffins before it's too late. Upon its chilling conclusion, Sara finally agrees to remarry Jeffrey after at least four proposals, and Ethan pushes Lena so far that she decides it's time to escape.
The Heartsdale Children's Clinic is closed. Sara spends all day being deposed in a malpractice lawsuit filed by the parents of Jimmy Powell, now dead from leukemia, and a deep-pockets-picking lawyer, over a ridiculous technicality. Everything she's built up for the last 16 years is crumbling away as greedy townspeople line up to get in on the action, not realizing their betrayal of her is only going to result in higher healthcare costs for everyone or that the nearest pediatrician is 100 miles away. Sara's parents are gone on a cross-country RV trip and her sister is counseling the homeless in Atlanta, leaving her only with husband Jeffrey there for support. When he's called away to the town of Reese, it's almost a relief to get to go with him...except that they're going because Lena lies in a hospital with smoke inhalation, under arrest and suspected of being involved in murder. She was found beaten badly, watching a torched SUV burn with a body inside it, on the 50-yard line of the high school football field, foot propped on an empty gas can. And she won't say a word to anyone. Reese is Lena's home town, and she came back to check on her Uncle Hank, the ex-addict who raised her and her twin sister. She found him mixed up with some very unsavory characters and hooked on drugs again after being clean for three decades. And major events from her past are now in question, events that shaped who she is. One of the few things of which she is certain is that Jeffrey and Sara are in terrible danger, and she must stop at nothing to get them out of town.