Written by Karin Slaughter — She may be best known for her Will Trent and Grant County series, but Karin Slaughter can turn her hand to a mean stand alone. Take Coptown as an example – one of our reading highlights of 2014, set in the Atlanta PD of the 1970s.
Fast forward to the present and say hello to The Good Daughter, also set in Slaughter’s beloved Georgia, and a book which is reminiscent of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s 1989 and sisters Sam and Charlie Quinn have a good life and loving, if eccentric, parents. Gamma Quinn is a clever woman who formerly worked for NASA and her husband, Rusty, is a lawyer. He will defend the undefended and, at times, the indefensible.
Which is why the Quinn family are living in a run down old farmhouse on the edge of town, after their home was burned down by unknown arsonists protesting against Rusty’s latest success in the courtroom. The girls are accomplished runners and train regularly but on one fateful day when they miss coaching, their lives fall apart. Two hooded men force their way into the farmhouse in search of Rusty, who is not yet home from work. Enraged by his absence, they kill Gamma in front of the girls, then take the sisters into the woods. There’s no way this is going to end well…
What happens next is the keystone to the whole story. Sam is the eldest, and when she is badly hurt by one of the assailants she urges her younger sister to take the chance and run for her life. Charlie obeys, but it’s a decision destined to haunt her every subsequent waking hour.
As we skip to the present day, Charlie is still in Pikeville, the little town where it all happened. She is a lawyer, working out of her father’s office but not, as she forcefully insists, working for her father, who is still offering hope to the no-hopers. She is married to the love of her life, but all is not well between Ben and Charlie and that discord has led her into another life-changing decision. She has a one-night stand with a guy whose name escapes her and the day after she realises she has his phone. They arrange an early morning swap at his place of work, the local middle school where Sam was once a troublesome pupil. She goes there and once again, she is in the middle of a bloodbath as she walks right into a shootout that leaves a teacher and a little girl dead.
Sam, on the other hand, is dogged by bad luck and an even worse attitude but there’s something endearing about her. She’s damaged, proud and feisty and not prepared to kowtow to anyone – least of all her father. The exchanges between Sam and Rusty are the highlights of this book, bright shards of sunlight in an at times devilishly dark and despairing narrative. The cloying claustrophobia of the small town Deep South is finely rendered and there are myriad shocking revelations that appear out of nowhere.
There are a couple of things that stop The Good Daughter from receiving a resounding five stars. To go back to that awful day in 1989 on several occasions and seeing it from differing viewpoints is fine, but reading the same passages over and over again becomes a little tedious. There are also entire sections that judder along because of the overuse of short sentences. A few conjunctions would make things a lot easier on the eye. That aside, The Good Daughter is an engaging and hugely satisfying read.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars