karin slaughter

Karin Slaughter Takes On Family And Other Gruesome Things In ‘Pretty Girls’

pretty girls

Karin Slaughter is legit. I say this having only read one of her huge Will Trent/Grant County series, Criminal, which didn’t totally blow me away. Where I did fall in love with that story was in its portrayal of women on the police force in the 1970’s, which Slaughter so intensely described it kept me up at nights, skipping the present-day, Will Trent sections of the book to get back those flashbacks of his mentor’s times on earlier, much meaner streets.

This means I was definitely a fan of Cop Town, Slaughter’s stand-alone novel focusing on women police in 1970’s Atlanta. And when Slaughter’s newest release, Pretty Girls, was announced as another stand alone, I was excited, just as Will Trent fans everywhere were dismayed.

In Pretty Girls, posh, confident Claire’s successful architect husband, Paul, is murdered in a robbery gone wrong. Immediately after his death, things stop making sense for Claire. She’s left in a stark, excessively large home she never wanted. A robbery takes place at Claire’s home during the funeral, and police and the FBI are a bit too interested in the case, a bit too attentive to Claire’s needs.

Meanwhile, Claire’s sister Lydia, estranged from the family, is revisiting old wounds as another young girl goes missing in the media. Where Claire is classy and sophisticated, Lydia is overweight and runs a pet-grooming service. As different as the sisters are, they both are haunted by the the memory of their third sister Julia, who went missing in their childhood.

The sisters’ stories alternate until they intertwine, as they come together to figure out just what the police could want from Claire, and who Paul really was.

The best part of this book, and maybe all thrillers for me, was its tense beginning. Claire, nervous and in mourning, realizes something isn’t right. But what, exactly? Everyone is acting strangely, the husband she relied on is dead, and she is left entirely on her own to discover his dark secrets. Like Stephen King’s A Good Marriage, the idea that you may not know the person you married, the person you sleep in bed next to each night, is terrifying.

There is quite a bit of gore, with some really ugly stuff presented. These scenes are brief, and play a role in explaining character development.

The story complicated itself as it progressed, and it began to lose a bit of steam for me, raising too many red flags of plausibility. I didn’t need that many twists for the book to be good. Despite feeling a bit bogged by the end, this is a finely-crafted thriller, with well-developed and realistic female characters confronting both family issues and much uglier, darker things. I know Will Trent fans are eagerly awaiting Slaughter’s next book in that series, but I’ll be eagerly awaiting her next stand-alone release.

Pretty Girls on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Review – Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

cop town

If there’s one thing I love in this world, it’s mystery fiction. Sometimes I need a good literary mystery, with headache and nightmare-inducing twists and turns. Sometimes, I crave something more straightforward. I picked up Karin Slaughter’s previous novel Criminal on one of these whims, hoping for an easy, enjoyable read. Criminal was part of Slaughter’s Will Trent series, and the story alternated between Will’s present storyline and the vivid, gritty life of his supervisor, Deputy Director Amanda Wagner, as she joined the police force in the 1970’s. Slaughter’s historical fiction stood out to me, as rookie cop Amanda Wagner dealt with rampant sexism on the police force and navigated some of Atlanta’s worst neighborhoods.

So you can imagine my excitement when I learned about Cop Town, Slaughter’s first stand alone novel, focusing entirely on women of Atlanta’s police force in the 1970’s. Amanda Wagner’s part of the story stood out to me in Criminal, and it definitely left me wanting more from that time period. It seems as if this is the world Slaughter is meant to explore and uncover: an “old boy” network in which the old boys are all haunted by various wars, a culture in which heavy drinking seems required to make it on the job, a police force where male cops aren’t your peers but cat-calling, leering father figures who won’t take you seriously.

In Cop Town, smart, observant Maggie Lawson works in this type of environment, and she reluctantly takes Kate Murphy under her wing as she flails (both literally and figuratively) in a uniform that is much too large for her. Someone is shooting Atlanta cops, killing them execution-style in the back of the head, and Maggie and Kate take it upon themselves to look for what the rest of the force, drunk and stuck in their own ways of thinking, can’t or won’t see.

There’s some discussion of the accuracy of all the racism and sexism portrayed in these books. Could the police force really have been that horrible for the first few women on the force? In both Criminal and Cop Town, Slaughter notes at the end of the novels her attention to accuracy and historical facts in research. But the books are, of course, fiction. I think this is why the work Voice of Witness is doing, and the concept of oral history/personal narrative in general, is so important. I would love to see Karin Slaughter tell the stories of some of the first women on police forces in America, as they relayed those experiences to her.

The larger thing to remember when reading Cop Town, however, is that this isn’t meant to be a textbook. This is a mystery. This will be a book you can’t wait to pick up, a book your heart beats a bit faster when you read, a book you feel a bit disoriented when you look up from because you were so lost inside its pages. Putting these protagonists in an unbelievably hostile work environment heightens the tension from all sides–there is a shooter loose on the streets of Atlanta, yes, but there are enemies everywhere else these young women turn.

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org