Monday, July 30, 2012

Criminal by Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter referred to her bestseller, Criminal, as a triptych.  She skillfully brings three storylines together, keeping the reader riveted. It takes skill to allow characters in different time frames to bring together a story. It's no wonder Slaughter is considered a master at writing thrillers.

How did Lucy Bennett end up turning tricks in 1974? She came from a nice family, but started taking pills to lose weight when she was fifteen. Then, she became involved with an older man, ran off with him, and eventually ended up turning tricks on the streets of Atlanta. And, one day, she ended up with the wrong man.

In the present day, Will Trent, an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, never has understood his boss, Amanda Wagner. For some reason, she has it in for him right now. She doesn't seem to want him around her current cases. And, when he sees a newscast in which Amanda announces a college girl has gone missing, he's more confused than ever. Running into Amanda at the children's home were he grew up, when she should have been dealing with the disappearance confuses Will even more.

Forty years earlier, though, Amanda Wagner was a young plainclothes police officer, fighting all the sexism on the Atlanta Police Force. When she and Evelyn Mitchell are sent to an apartment where a hooker tells them about other girls who have gone missing, Amanda and Evelyn find it odd. The two women sneak around, investigating a case that doesn't interest any of the male officers. Why are young blond prostitutes disappearing off the streets of Atlanta? Deputy Director Amanda Wagner has secrets connected to those cases forty years earlier, and she's trying to keep Will Trent away from those secrets.

Slaughter's Criminal is filled with sexism and cruelty, and it's not all aimed at the women of the streets. Much of it is aimed at young policewomen in the 1970s. Slaughter has finally told Will's story and Amanda's. But, we've seen traces of Will's over the years. It's Amanda's story that is brutal and revealing.

Criminal is intriguing for so many reasons. The ending, with it's twists, is powerful. It's fascinating to discover Will's story. And, a killer isn't the only criminal in this book. The stories of women, and the crimes against them is revealing.  Slaughter tells stories of women working the streets as prostitutes and cops, and the men who try to beat the life out of them. Criminal is a remarkable crime novel, one that should be read as a thriller that reminds us what life was like for those women who stepped out of the traditional roles for women.

Karin Slaughter recently appeared at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore on her tour for Criminal. Her comments fit with this book review, so I'll include them here.

Slaughter said when she finishes writing one book, she immediately writes the first chapter of the next one. One story she tells in Criminal is that of a nice girl from a solid middle class family. Like many girls, her history involves getting involved with the wrong boy, and spiraling down. That's Lucy Bennett in 1974

In the present day, the same thing is happening, the same trouble. Right now, there are more women and children in slavery than ever in the history of the world. Slaughter wanted to show that girls can come from a nice family, people who cared. And, one awful meeting, one stupid mistake can lead to downfall. Teenagers have a sense of invulnerability, especially girls in the middle class. If they get addicted, there is a loss of self-control and self-determination.

Will Trent and Sara Linton are together in this book. There's lots of Will's story as part of the triptych. Slaughter knew a long time ago that we'd learn about Will. He had lots of choices. He was raised in foster homes. He chose not to end up in a bad life. Will took control of his life, and did something about it.

Slaughter said she was more interested in Amanda Wagner, Will's boss. She's a harsh person. In Criminal, Slaughter shows how she got to be that way. She's sharp, and hard on Will, but she's fair.

Angie, Will's wife, grew up with him. She spiraled down while he went up. It's a story out of Dickens, self-determination. Will is modeled on Karin Slaughter's father. His dad was such a bad alcoholic that he got kicked out of the Klan. Slaughter's father pulled himself out of that life. He wanted something else out of life. He was a car salesman, but he gave his daughters a solid middle class life. Slaughter thinks of her dad when she thinks of Will.

Amanda was a woman who came up in the Atlanta Police Department. Women had to put up with a lot in the '70s. Slaughter talked to a lot of women who came up then. Slaughter said women are their own worst enemies. The number one report to the Atlanta Police Department in the '70s came from women who called to report that they saw a woman stealing a police car. When asked what the woman was wearing, they said scandalously, pants. It never dawned on the women calling that a woman would be a police officer.

In the 1970s, Atlanta was one of two major cities with a black mayor. The city had the largest black middle class of major cities. Maynard Jackson appointed a black police commissioner. Jackson exploited the federal government for money. He said he was the biggest, fattest, loudest mayor in the country. Slaughter said she admired him because he didn't like discrimination, racial or gender discrimination. He didn't see black or white. He only saw green. He was for women's rights. Author Pearl Cleage was on his staff at one time. The staff went to a restaurant, and they were told, we don't serve women. Jackson said then we won't do business here, and they all left. Atlanta is a huge business center, a cosmopolitan city.

Slaughter said she had to find a way to get Sara out of the country and into Atlanta for Criminal. Sara moves to the city, and has stronger ties there.

Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen, said Karin Slaughter has always been a careful, thoughtful writer. Slaughter said she's always had a long-term plan, and she plans her books two or three ahead. Unseen, the next book in the series, will be set in Macon. Will, Faith and Amanda will be in it. Slaughter said she ended the stories set in Grant County. There was only so much she could do in that area. But, there are 159 counties in Georgia, so she has at least 159 books to do. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation can go anyplace in the state.

Slaughter would like to set the book after Unseen totally in the 1970s if possible. Then, the next book will show where Angie goes when she leaves.

Karin Slaughter said she's always been a writer with a vision of what she wants her worlds to be like in her books. And, Barbara Peters ended with, "Being god in her own universe; that's what being a writer is all about."

Karin Slaughter's website is

Criminal by Karin Slaughter. Delacorte Press. 2012. ISBN 9780345528506 (hardcover), 434p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publicist sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Ricky Bush said...

It's been way too long since I've read one Karin Slaughter's books. Thanks for reminding me what I've been missing.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Ricky. I went a while and hadn't read one. It's good to catch up with her characters.

Jane R said...

This author has been on my book list forever. I really do need to start reading her books. I enjoyed your review as well as the recap of her visit to the Poisoned Pen. Just the encouragement I need!

Lesa said...

Great, Jane! Maybe I pushed you over the edge. Thank you.

Karen C said...

Karin Slaughter is another of my favorite authors and I'm really looking forward to reading this one. Great recap, too.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Karen. If she's a favorite, you're really going to appreciate this book.

caite said...

Slaughter is perhaps my favorite authors and I simply can not wait to read this one..sounds excellent!

Lesa said...

It was excellent. If she's your favorite, you're going to love it!