We’re in Atlanta and it’s 1974. Doesn’t sound long ago if you’re of a certain age – but trust me, mid-70s Georgia is a world away from the uber-politically correct here and now. It’s November as the book opens, and a distraught police officer is running through the deserted, late night streets of the city, carrying his injured partner on his back. Jimmy Lawson’s actions are too late to save Don Wesley – looks like the Atlanta Shooter has bagged his fifth police officer victim in three months. As the news filters through the city’s myriad divisions, the officers unite in their condemnation of the act and their determination to catch the culprit.
The loudest voice of all belongs to Terry Lawson, Jimmy’s uncle, a loud-mouthed bigot of the old school who has a band of like-minded, long-serving white cops hanging on his every word. The killer is out there, and they won’t hesitate in meting out their own form of justice when they catch him. There’s a third Lawson in the mix too. Maggie is Jimmy’s sister and a police officer to boot. But as I mentioned before, this is 1974, a time when southern women were expected to stay at home and look after the babies; or if they worked, they were secretaries or waitresses. Not police officers. Never police officers.
The government has other ideas, and has handed out healthy cash incentives to states who recruit officers from the minorities – and that means black people and women. They may be in uniform, but that doesn’t mean their colleagues have to treat them with any respect, though. Which is why Maggie and her fellow female cops are forced to change in a converted storage cupboard, with no toilet or shower facilities. They spend their days chasing ‘chicken bones’, the of-no-account calls that the men can’t be bothered to deal with. If they are sent out with a male officer, they can expect to be abused, insulted, and at best, treated as a glorified note-taker.
Into this maelstrom of hatred and prejudice steps newly-qualified officer Kate Murphy. Kate is from the better side of Atlanta, and a widow – both facts she attempts in vain to conceal from her new colleagues. She is blonde and very beautiful, but as we learn more about Kate, we discover that she has a core of steel lurking beneath her glamour girl looks. When she and Maggie are thrown together they make a formidable team – a team that intends to go off the books to investigate the Shooter and his victims… Because as any red-blooded cop knows, the women officers are only there to make up the numbers and wouldn’t know an investigation if it leapt out of their overstuffed handbags. These girls are definitely up to the challenge – but can they handle the shocking facts they uncover as their probing begins to bear fruit?
I absolutely loved this book. In Cop Town, Karin Slaughter has created an authentic voice from a bygone era, when men were men and women were expected to be grateful. Thankfully, in Maggie and Kate we have two living, breathing females who are not content to play second fiddle. The contrasts between the born-to-the-job Maggie and greenhorn Kate offer a welcome counterpoint to a sometimes dark and often brutal story. They may have come to their careers via starkly different routes, but both women are firmly committed to the pursuit of the truth and justice (which is more than can be said for the majority of their male colleagues). The burgeoning understanding between the two women is the lifeblood of a murder mystery cum police procedural which definitely stands out from the crowd. This is a first class read from an author on the very top of her game. I heartily recommend it.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars