Author: Karin Slaughter
Genre: Thriller / crime
Karin Slaughter’s 2001 debut is good at doing its thing—a gritty crime thriller genre novel that has lots of all those things (grit, police procedure, thriller-ness). It’s fast paced, and I definitely wanted to find out what happened next. Its ~420 pages easily felt like half that due to the plotting, suspense, and gotta-find-out-what-happens-next nature of it.
It is set in the South and almost all the characters are white. This book confronts both racism and sexism in a low key sort of way. Neither are handled in depth, but the racism at least is handled directly and the racist characters, while shown to be “wrong” and a nuisance, are portrayed as regular people, which is good to see—a lot of times there’s this desire to make racism in the modern day the product of fringe types, not the sort of people who are on your police squad, even though the latter scenario is overwhelmingly more likely. Sexism is handled less directly, but in a larger variety of ways—two of the main characters (a coroner/pediatrician and a detective) are women, as are all the victims, one of whom is also blind. This is a book whose subject is heavy with rape, and the characters talk about what motivates rape—control over women—in a way that is accurate. There’s also explicit discussion about how, while survivors of rape may be hurt by the act for the rest of their lives, it is important to see them as more than victims and to not let that experience define them. While the book can talk the talk on that point, I’m still undecided if it walked the walk—I can make arguments that it both did and didn’t. Also, there was a scene I wasn’t too keen on, where the detective is interviewing someone who has just been rescued from the rapist and says something along the lines of “you have to talk to us, you don’t want this to happen to someone else do you??” the implication of which is, of course, that she is partly complicit if the rapist rapes again. Not a fan.
When I said “gritty”? I meant “graphically violent.” It’s interesting, because I have a fairly strong stomach for reading about violence (and just about none for actually seeing it, even fictional representations), and although I would not say that reading about it is ever a pleasant experience, it rarely “squicks” me. That holds true for almost all of the violence in this book. But there was one thing…and it was really only a sentence, mentioned one time almost in passing it seemed like…and that’s it, I’m like “nope this book is too much.” Which I find kind of strange, since I have wholeheartedly recommended books that contain strong violence without thinking of even mentioning that violence in my review. When people complain about violent scenes in their reviews, I’m usually like, “wait what…oh yeah that did happen.” Anyway. This book is definitely about a string of violent rapes and they are all gone over, if not in detail, at least not in passing, either. Something to keep in mind before picking it up.
My criticisms of the book mostly have to do with the limitations of genre fiction. I feel like it’s kind of unfair to read a genre thriller and then complain about genre conventions. So while I knew that character development was going to be fairly shallow, I was expecting to be able to tell the two main female characters apart, at least. But they’re basically the same, and I got them confused constantly. That happened with other characters too, and it doesn’t help that everyone seems to have four letter names: Sara, Lena, Jeff, Greg, Mark, Matt, Pete, Will, Hank (and then there’s Frank, five letters but rhyming with Hank and both of them are older white dudes). Also I thought the romance was corny.
All in all, a solid crime thriller with (I think) better-than-average commentary on sexism, racism, and rape. Nothing groundbreaking but if you’re looking for something along these lines, it’s not a bad choice.