4 stars out of 5
Since I've been keeping track at Goodreads.com, I've read five other books by Karin Slaughter - all Will Trent novels. The most recent, Unseen, was less than great, but I enjoyed the others well enough to try this book, her first stand-alone novel. And by the time I'd reached a quarter of the way through, I was pretty sure I was going to struggle to finish it.
It really wasn't the writing; rather, it was the subject matter and time period. The 1970s was not my favorite decade, although I was rather happily distracted from all the nasty things going on in the world by trying to take care of a husband, two young children and returning to the workforce once our younger child, born in 1968, reached kindergarten age.
And this book is set right in the middle: 1974 in Atlanta, where clear lines are drawn among men and women, blacks and whites, gays and straights, Jews and everyone else; there's no air conditioning, no cell phones and men keep their women in line by beating the crap out of them. All in good fun, eh?
Not. I'm not entirely sure why, except maybe it brought back somewhat uncomfortable memories of my own years in college in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Jews and blacks (and no, they weren't called "blacks" back then) had separate fraternities and sororities and Women's Lib was just a glimmer in Betty Friedan's eye. At any rate, the story centers on Kate Murphy, a young widow who has joined the Atlanta Police Department just after the brutal murder of one of their own - the latest in a string of similar murders. She's got three strikes against her: She's new, she's female and she's beautiful. The women on the force can't relate to her - they're having enough trouble taking the heat from the men themselves - and the men make it clear they don't want her there.
Forced to wear ill-fitting uniforms and accept insults hurled at her from every angle, Kate isn't sure she'll make it right from the start. Still, she manages to develop a bit of camaraderie, albeit grudgingly given, with the sister of the cop who was with his partner - the most recent officer killed - when it happened. Together, the women form a sort of alliance to investigate on their own, risking the ire of other officers if their behind-the-scenes efforts are discovered (if not outright dismissal from the force). Those efforts take on even more relevance when the evidence takes them to surprising places and revelations that will rock their own belief systems and the police department to the very core.
Obviously, I kept going despite my hesitation early on - and I'm very glad I did. No, I never quite adjusted to all the negative attitudes and scenarios, but at the same time they were crucial to a story that got much more interesting the closer I got to the end - the last quarter I polished off nonstop just because it was that good. Was I happy with the ending? Well, yes and no; but all I'll say is some things take longer to change than others.
Cop Town by Karin Slaughter (Delacorte Press, June 2014); 417 pp.