Delacorte Press, July 2012
From the publisher—
Will Trent is a brilliant agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Newly in love, he is beginning to put a difficult past behind him. Then a local college student goes missing, and Will is inexplicably kept off the case by his supervisor and mentor, deputy director Amanda Wagner. Will cannot fathom Amanda’s motivation until the two of them literally collide in an abandoned orphanage they have both been drawn to for different reasons. Decades before—when Will’s father was imprisoned for murder—this was his home. . . .
Flash back nearly forty years. In the summer Will Trent was born, Amanda Wagner is going to college, making Sunday dinners for her father, taking her first steps in the boys’ club that is the Atlanta Police Department. One of her first cases is to investigate a brutal crime in one of the city’s worst neighborhoods. Amanda and her partner, Evelyn, are the only ones who seem to care if an arrest is ever made.
Now the case that launched Amanda’s career has suddenly come back to life, intertwined with the long-held mystery of Will’s birth and parentage. And these two dauntless investigators will each need to face down demons from the past if they are to prevent an even greater terror from being unleashed.
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Dear Reader, if you’re looking for a cozy or even a soft-boiled mystery, this is not it. In the past, Karin Slaughter‘s work has been described as “captivating”, “gruesome”, “intense”, “engrossing”, “surprising”, “searing”, “challenging”, “compelling”, and all of those adjectives fit nicely with Criminal. There are few authors who can write with such intensity and sustain it throughout the story but this author can and does.
Shifting back and forth between the mid-1970’s and present day, we see the consequences that a crime has on a small group of people at that time and continuing years into the future. The killing of a prostitute is an old story but how can it possibly be related to the disappearance of a college student more than thirty-five years later? Will Trent and his boss, Amanda Wagner, are linked in ways that go far beyond their work and both must deal with the psychological wounds of their pasts as they seek to keep it all from happening again. Along the way, the already somewhat strained relationship between the two will become tangled in unexpected emotions and Will’s incipient connection with Dr. Sara Linton may suffer irreparable damage.
A significant side story involves the conditions within the Atlanta Police Department in the 1970’s, particularly the racism and the hostility of the “good old boys” towards the women infiltrating their domain. Was it really that bad? I don’t know but I do remember that there was a lot of fingerpointing and accusations of racism and lack of interest between the department and the public during the 1979-1981 depredations of serial killer Wayne Williams.
Oddly enough, there have been a few comments from other reviewers questioning the accuracy of Ms. Slaughter‘s depiction of women’s lot in the mid-70’s. I can’t speak to their experiences in law enforcement at the time but, from personal knowledge, I can attest that women were often not considered for employment positions traditionally held by men because they were believed to be less qualified. If they showed themselves to have backbones, they were called “bitchy”, and those reviewers should remember that much of this dismissal of women still goes on today. And, yes, it WAS hard for a woman to get credit. When I divorced my husband in 1979, our joint gasoline credit card was terminated and I was denied one in my own name solely because I was no longer married (they actually put that in writing). There are a couple of passages in Criminal when 25-year-old Amanda and her partner don’t have a clear understanding of female health issues and I don’t really buy that (at their age, also in the 70’s, I certainly understood these things and I was not brought up in a forward-thinking atmosphere) but, otherwise, these sceptical reviewers should have done a little research before deciding the 1970’s could not have been this bad. They were.
Ms. Slaughter‘s writing is, as always, riveting—no, gutwrenching—and no one handles the violence and pathos of murder better than she does. Criminal is not easy to read but it’s also not easy to put down; you might as well settle down and accept the fact you won’t be getting much sleep. This is a worthy addition to the author’s bibliography and especially to the continuing story arc involving Will Trent, Sara Linton, Amanda Wagner and other characters from her two series. I wonder what the lady has in store for us next.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2012.