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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

Dell, 464 pages, $9.99

By placing “Cop Town” in 1974 Atlanta, Karin Slaughter has given herself some complex issues to play with that are tied to that time and place.

At the start of the book, Kate Murphy is a rookie cop at a time when women cops were rare and beleaguered creatures. When she arrives at the precinct, she has to run the gauntlet of macho male cops grabbing and jostling her. She gets no warm, sisterly welcome from the other female officers either. If anything, their gauntlet is emotionally tougher.

She is partnered with Jimmy Lawson whose partner has just been killed. Although he should be sidelined and in therapy, there he is driving his partner through the bad streets of Atlanta. His first act is to scare and intimidate her when he introduces her to a pimp. I use the word “introduce” with great irony.

Why would Kate, a smart, rich, Buckhead, Jewish apple of her parents’ (and oma’s) eyes, want to be a cop? That is exactly what Kate repeats to herself over and over throughout that first, miserable day.

Eventually Jimmy palms Kate off on his sister, Maggie, also a cop. It’s not that Maggie takes pity on Kate — she doesn’t hold out hope for Kate still being a cop by the end of the week — but she gives Kate streetwise lessons; it’s just something to do as they ride around. And Maggie, despite the strongly-worded adjurations of her uncle, also a cop, and Jimmy not to do anything besides write traffic tickets, she is determined to find “The Shooter,” the maniac killing cops. Jimmy said The Shooter’s gun jammed, or he would have been another victim. 

Slaughter’s novel is a finalist for the 2015 Edgar Award for best book. It’s because her story is so rich with Kate’s history, the dysfunctional interactions of the Lawson family, and the shooter’s creepiness. In what seems like a scant 400+ pages, besides her characters’ stories, Slaughter depicts an Atlanta with deeply divided lines of race, religion, and economic status. And she has crafted a page-turner on top of that.

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