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Sunday, August 20, 2017

'The Good Daughter' by Karin Slaughter


From the BLURB:

'Karin Slaughter's most ambitious, most emotional, and best novel. So far, anyway.
James Patterson

The stunning new standalone, with a chilling edge of psychological suspense, from the bestselling author of Pretty Girls.

Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind ...

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn's happy smalltown family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father - Pikeville's notorious defence attorney - devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.

Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father's footsteps to become a lawyer herself - the archetypal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again - and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatised - Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it's a case which can't help triggering the terrible memories she's spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime which destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won't stay buried for ever ...

***

‘The Good Daughter’ is the latest novel from my favourite crime-writer, Karin Slaughter.

The last Karin Slaughter book I read was 2016’s ‘The Kept Woman’, eighth book in her long-running ‘Will Trent’ series which in recent books has become a convergence of her previous series, ‘Grant County’. I enjoyed ‘The Kept Woman’, but also struggled with it in a way I haven’t done with a Karin Slaughter book before … and a lot of the struggle was a feeling of series-stagnation, a sense that Book No. 8 was a bit of a “filler episode” with little happening to advance characterisation. Which basically boils down to a bit of fatigue for a series that is, essentially, 14-books long by now.

So I was somewhat happy to come to ‘The Good Daughter’, and realise it’s a stand-alone book. Even though by the end of it, I did find myself half-hoping that Ms. Slaughter would announce this as the first in a new series she’s about to kick off (which, hey!, isn’t that wild a possibility – since her 2014 novel ‘Cop Town’ was meant to be stand-alone and is now rumoured to become the first in a series!).

‘The Good Daughter’ revolves around sisters Charlotte ‘Chuck’ and Samantha ‘Sam’ Quinn – and their small hometown of Pikeville, Georgia. Twenty-eight years ago Chuck and her older sister Sam were the victims of an awful act of vengeance aimed at their notorious defence attorney father, that resulted in the death of their mother and left both girls with very different scars. We begin in 1989 and the awful events of one night, an event readers will keep pivoting to and see from both Sam and Chuck’s perspectives – then we land in 2017, when the sisters have not spoken to one another for close to a decade, even as they’ve chosen very different paths for themselves, while still following in their father’s lawyering footsteps.

A school-shooting forces the sisters to come together, for their father’s sake, and the young woman accused of the heinous act which has left two dead.

I have not been a very good reader this year (let alone reviewer!). I have been reading, but mostly manuscripts and Top Secret projects I can’t exactly blog about. And so I have felt very much deficient as an avid reader in 2017, with only a meagre number of *published* books completed from my towering TBR-pile. But Karin Slaughter has changed that, thanks to the compulsively brilliant ‘The Good Daughter’. I feel a little unlocked now, and it’s no wonder when Slaughter is one of those mainstay authors whom I have come to rely on as a constant reading lodestone at least once a year.

‘The Good Daughter’ is a fabulous introduction to Slaughter’s crime novels, for those who have never come across her before. Even as this stand-alone novel is quite a different beast from her usual crime-dramas … it’s much more a family-saga than anything else she’s written, with a firm focus on the love between the two sisters and their complicated relationship with their charming, slippery father, Rusty. Slaughter’s previous books have all tended to be focused on the prosecution side of things too – with a police chief, FBI-agent and coroner making up her usual list of protagonists – but ‘The Good Daughter’ switches things up brilliantly, by aligning us with the defence-attorney team on the side of the accused, and painting small-town cops in a none too flattering manner … These are all thoroughly new avenues that Slaughter is exploring, but it’s all still an amalgamation of what makes Karin Slaughter the top of her game.

I will warn that, yes, like most crime writers of today – violence against women is a huge component of this book (and most of Slaughter’s works, even as male characters also get dealt their fair share of violence). What I appreciate about Slaughter though, is that it’s not for nothing. The physical and sexual violence meted out against her female characters is never used to advance a man’s storyline – and it’s never so throwaway that she doesn’t pick apart, to the bone, the ramifications of that violence beyond the act itself.

As is always the case, Slaughter’s characters are broken. Not just by the past, and a collective, harrowing and violent event from Sam and Chuck’s childhood – that changed their young lives’ forever – but they’re broken in more recent grief of loss, and marriage-breakdowns. Sam and Chuck are messy, and it’s easy to see why, when we meet their enigmatic father Rusty who – for all his caricature bluster and good-nature, is just as hollowed-out as his daughters by all that they’ve lost. Rusty reminded me more though, of a stone – smoothed by being battered and washed over by the current of time, while his two daughters are still jagged rock formations, not yet ready to face the waves. Even Slaughter’s minor-characters are sublimely drawn and you just know that if she wanted to (again, I’m crossing my fingers for a series here) there’d be some fantastic stories to pluck out of them … Rusty’s secretary Lenore, being a prime example.

I will say too though – that something which struck me as so different about ‘The Good Daughter’ from Slaughter’s other books is how likeable all the main players are. I know how this sounds but trust me, – some of Slaughter’s long-time readers (me included) take serious issue with some of her protagonists (*cough* Lena Adams *cough*). Sometimes it’s an enduring hatred, other times what starts as hate-of-a-thousand-suns cools over a series as their layers are peeled back … but pretty generally, Slaughter loves a character who lives in the gray-areas of morality, and whom readers have to really work at begrudgingly liking. To give you a teaser of this (which spoils nothing, because you learn it in the first chapter or two of book one!) is that hero of the ‘Grant County’ series, Jeffrey Tolliver, cheated on the series’ other protagonist, Sara Linton and when we meet them they are bitterly divorced.

This kind of ingrained dislike of awful, damaged characters isn’t really a factor in ‘The Good Daughter’. Chuck and Sam certainly have their issues – Chuck especially, lives with more than one moral ambiguity. But you don’t hate them. At least, I didn’t. Instead I felt an instant kinship and tenderness towards both of them – also, possibly, because we first meet them as children, experiencing the worst moment of their lives. Perhaps we’re made to be instantly forgiving for some of their more caustic behaviour because we know where it stems from … but I don’t think so. At least, that’s not the only reason. I think Slaughter has just really excelled at writing two damaged but determined women who are fascinating to read bump against one another’s so different personalities, and find a way to connect as sisters after such a long silence.

‘The Good Daughter’ is, unsurprisingly, one of my fave readers of 2017 so far. It may even be pretty high up on my list of All Time Favourite Crime Novels. A heart-hurting slice of Georgia dark, from a crime-writer who has managed to pivot into family drama with such fine characterisations, that I find myself in awe of an author I already considered a favourite. I will only say that I’d have liked more courtroom drama – but I’ll quietly hope we get more, should this book prove to be the first in a series …

5/5
  

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