This crime/police procedural is all the grittier for being set in 1974 Atlanta, Georgia, a time and place inhospitable to women, gays, blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and anyone else considered a threat by the white Christian males used to being in control.
As fans of Slaughter may recall, she focused on a similar time and place for her previous book in the Will Trent series, Criminal.
This book is meant as the beginning of a new series, and introduces two young patrol officers, Maggie Lawson and Kate Murphy, who are trying to keep their sanity in the sexist, racist atmosphere of the police force in 1974 Atlanta.
Maggie, 23, comes from a family of policemen, and as the book begins, her brother Jimmy is carrying his injured partner to the hospital. A cop killer dubbed “The Shooter” has been killing police two at a time, but in Jimmy’s case, the shooter’s gun jammed, so only his partner got killed. The detectives on the force believe the shooter is black, even without any evidence, and will not entertain any other theories. These embittered white cops are looking for an excuse to start a race war.
Maggie desperately wants to help find this shooter, but the men won’t let her on the case. Instead, she reluctantly enlists the help of a new rookie, Kate, and her old mentor, Gail. Gail tries to advise Kate on how to survive on the force:
Kate . . . obviously didn’t get it. The hardest battles didn’t take place on the streets. They happened inside the squad room. Every time a female officer took a step forward, a male officer felt like he was being pushed back. The guys pounced the minute you showed weakness.”
Kate comes from a privileged background, and is astounded not only by what she sees on the streets, but by the way fellow officers treat her. She explains to her father and grandmother that some of the policemen are repulsive racists and misogynists, and yet, she feels confident they would risk their own lives to help a fellow officer, even a female officer. It doesn’t make sense to her. Her father can only opine: “People stink. But then sometimes they don’t.”
In spite of the “soul-killing and humiliating and terrifying” experience she has had on the force though, she also finds it challenging, exciting, and even sometimes, fun. She wonders if she is becoming someone different.
In the end, Maggie and Kate make some surprising discoveries about The Shooter, and get insight both into the fear that makes some of the men act so hateful, and into the occasional and inexplicable moments of love and grace.
Evaluation: Usually I avoid violent, gritty stories with profane, nasty, scummy characters, but Karin Slaughter is an inordinately talented writer and her female protagonists are exceptional. The author knows how to bathe her grimy settings in empathetic compassion and insight. A terrific book; I cried at the end.
Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House, 2014