A review of Criminal, by Karin Slaughter
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
In every one of Karin Slaughter’s previous novels of murder and mayhem in the Deep South, Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) officer Will Trent and his boss, Amanda Wagner, GBI’s deputy commander, were characters shrouded in mystery, their actions frequently difficult to understand. In Criminal, Slaughter rips off the shrouds. This is an unusually suspenseful, affecting, and, in the end, deeply satisfying story.
The action in Criminal shifts repeatedly from the present day to 1975 and back again, and the connections between the events in those two years become clear only well into the book. Amanda is a central figure in both strands of the story – beginning her career in the Atlanta Police Department in 1975 and nearing retirement amid the latter-day events. Will Trent takes center stage on the contemporary scene, his new romance with Dr. Sara Linton blossoming and then sorely tested as the action unfolds.
The novel opens in 1975 with the disappearance of Lucy Bennett, a rich girl gone bad, hooked on heroin and working the streets under the thumb of a pimp who goes by the name of Juice. Only in the final pages of the novel do we come to understand fully what happened to Lucy, and why.
Slaughter writes from an omniscient perspective, shifting the viewpoint from time to time as one character or another moves on-stage. Her prose is spare and pulls no punches. Although her characters harbor secrets that will only later be revealed, there is nothing manipulative about the author’s failure to disclose what they know any more quickly than they themselves would be likely to do so.
Slaughter’s research into the Atlanta Police Department of the mid-1970s was extensive, and what she reveals about its egregiously bad behavior in that era is deeply troubling. Amanda Wagner’s experience as a rookie officer, and that of her female friends, is shocking – though perhaps no more so than what female officers experienced at the time in other law enforcement departments where their presence was a novelty. Slaughter’s sensitive treatment of race relations during that era is no less revealing.
To date, Karin Slaughter has written a total of 12 novels featuring Will Trent and Sara Linton. I previously reviewed Broken and Blindsighted, both of which are set in the small Georgia town where Dr. Linton previously ran a children’s health clinic and served part-time as medical examiner. I’m sure I’ll be reading more of Slaughter’s novels.