Karin Slaughter’s first stand-alone novel is set in 1974 in Atlanta, one of the most violent, criminal cities in the USA; a city where racism, sexism, misogyny, harassment and corruption dominate attitudes, never more so than in the Police Department. A serial killer is targeting policemen but, in spite of an intensive investigation, hasn’t been apprehended. Angry about being side-lined in the investigation, Maggie, who comes from a family of police officers, none of whom approves of women officers, and Kate, a naïve new recruit who is looking to find purpose in her life following the death of her husband in Vietnam, decide that they will try to solve the case themselves. Maggie has an extra reason not to be excluded when her police officer brother, Jimmy and his partner are attacked when answering an emergency call and his partner is murdered. The two women may be very different in background and temperament, but both have something to prove.
Everything about the writing all too vividly captured all the attitudes and prejudices which were rife in the 1970s as well as what it was like for a woman to work in such an alpha-male environment, where even crossing the office meant having to put up with groping from fellow officers, as well as with an endless barrage of lewd and offensive remarks. The whole of the story was disturbing, thought-provoking, challenging and full of tension – and also horribly believable. Often female officers were as violent as their male colleagues, and misandry was almost as commonplace as misogyny! On first acquaintance almost all of the characters were fairly loathsome, but as the story progressed most were shown to have redeeming features, so there is absolutely nothing black and white in the author’s exploration of complex moral dilemmas. This certainly added depth to what could otherwise been a run of the mill crime story and certainly offers lots of scope for lively reading group discussions!