Review of “Criminal” by Karin Slaughter

This story, part of the Will Trent/Sara Linton series of crime novels, begins in 1974 Atlanta, and alternates between that time period and the present. In this way, we get a more in-depth portrait of some of the older characters in the series, and we also get the bonus of finding out what happens to characters in the future, something most crime novels don’t have the luxury of conveying.

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Someone is abducting and murdering prostitutes in 1974, and as the present day story begins, a dead girl is found exhibiting the same horrific signs of torture that characterized the killings some thirty years earlier. For some reason, although the Georgia FBI is called in, Deputy Director Amanda Wagner won’t allow her agent Will Trent to be on the case.

On the one hand, this enables Will to spend more time developing his new relationship with Dr. Sara Linton, but on the other, he is puzzled as to why Amanda is shutting him out.

As we go back and forth to 1974, when Amanda was first starting out in the police force, we gradually understand her connection to this case, and why she is determined that Will not get involved.

Discussion: Karin Slaughter just keeps getting better and better. This book had me both laughing and crying, neither of which I have ever done while reading one of Slaughter’s gritty mysteries.

Ordinarily, crime novels that feature abuse of women make me run the other way. But Slaughter is an exception to the rule. First of all, her aim seems not to be sensationalism but rather to expose the myriad ways in which a sense of anger and impotence in men can, and does, get taken out on women. She manages to elicit understanding, sympathy, compassion, and even outrage.

Second, her writing is just so darn good – not because the prose is poetic, but because she knows how to construct a good crime story.

And third, her characters, whether flawed but well-meaning, or damaged and evil, are drawn in an interesting and well-rounded way. (One exception may be the recent evolution of Sara Linton, the heroine of two of Slaughter’s series, who is starting to be a little too perfect.)

This book is even more noteworthy because it required a great deal of research by the author on Atlanta in the Seventies, and her hard work shows. Slaughter creates a fascinating picture of what it was like back then for such groups as women, blacks, police, prostitutes. She observes in an afterward that as crazy as her portrait may seem, it is borne out by testimonials, studies, and news articles.

The sequences in the Seventies are riveting. You emerge with nothing but admiration for the pioneering women cops who had as much to fear from their fellow male officers as the criminals on the streets. [Slaughter was greatly aided in this part by a year-long study conducted of female police officers in Atlanta in 1975.] Read about what they endured and weep. And cheer. And fall absolutely in love with these women who, having imbibed the prejudice and racism of their time and place, at first seem totally unlikable. As they learn, they change and grow, and inescapably, so does the reader’s affection for them.

Some memorable episodes: the first time one of the women gets a credit card; an encounter between two of the young women cops and an Jewish woman who is talking about hot flashes during “the change,” and their thinking it must be something Jewish women get; the disdain of the female cops for prostitutes evolving into this:

“Those girls… They aren’t very different from us, are they? Someone along the way decided that they don’t matter. And that made it true.”

And then there is the moment Amanda and Evelyn walked into the squad room for the morning briefing after doing something none of the males had been able to do….

Evaluation: I can’t say enough good about Karin Slaughter. This book actually can be read as a standalone, but really, why not start at the beginning? You won’t be sorry!

Rating: 4/5

Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 2012

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12 Responses to Review of “Criminal” by Karin Slaughter

  1. sandynawrot says:

    Did you see her website, where she has “now” and “then” pictures of Atlanta that she used for research? Plus there are some interviews with real women working as police officers in the 70’s. AMAZING STUFF. I loved this book, and you are right, she just keeps getting better and better.

  2. bookingmama says:

    I read it as a standalone and loved it. Actually I listened to it. This book delved into so many complex issues and the writing was superb!

  3. Rita K says:

    Love Slaughter! Need to read this.

  4. Barbara says:

    I was enthralled by this book. Actually I think it’s my favorite Slaughter novel which is really something with such a long list of titles. I have her new one UNSEEN on my desk, anxious to get to it.

  5. Charlie says:

    I like the story and the sound of all the research, but the future aspect of it appeals most. You saying that few crime authors do such, although I’ve not as much knowledge as you, from what I have read I’d have to agree. And it’s a good idea.

  6. I listened to one of Slaughter’s books and the narrator’s southern accent was sooo bad it kind of turned me off. I need to try one in print because the voices in my head will read the accent right.

  7. I absolutely LOVE this author! Fantastic review and it’s kicked me in the butt to get my books off the shelf of hers that I still need to read!! She’s flippin’ awesome!

  8. Beth F says:

    Arghh. I’m so behind. I might look for the audio based on Julie’s recommendation.

  9. Yo may talk me into trying another by this author…

  10. You are right..her writing is just so darn good. My review of her latest will be up this week.

  11. Keishon says:

    Your post inspires me. I quit Slaughter because I thought the relationship problematic but I plan to give this one another try.

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