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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

'Criminal' Will Trent/Atlanta #4 by Karin Slaughter

 Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

1974: In the blistering heat of an Atlanta summer, a killer prowls the street, searching for the weak, the vulnerable and the lost.

40 years later, a young woman is found brutally murdered in a sordid high-rise apartment. The specifics of her death are detailed and macabre, but for Special Agent Will Trent they are startlingly familiar, and can only mean one thing.

Desperate to deny this might be happening to him, he is forced to return to the home he grew up in, to the grimy crime-ridden streets, to a childhood he has spent the best part of his adult life trying to avoid.

As the body count rises, and the tension on the inner-city streets starts to simmer, Will becomes convinced that the clue to the killings now, and in 1974, may lie in his own past; a past that he hates yet feels responsible for.

And that the killer is much, much closer to him than anyone thought possible.

** Contains SPOILERS of previous books in the ‘Grant County’ and ‘Will Trent/Atlanta’ series **

Atlanta, 1974. Lucy Bennett is a good girl gone bad, turning tricks on the street with the other no-hope whores. Then a man comes along. He knows her name. He wants to save her.

Present day. Will Trent and Sara Linton are a tentative three weeks into their new relationship. There’s the small problem of Will’s ex-cop wife, Angie, leaving vaguely threatening post-it notes on Sara’s car. And the fact that Will has built a tall fortress around his heart and refuses to discuss his terrible childhood spent in foster homes, on the street or in the bad part of town, in a place called Techwood. But Sara has felt an undeniable pull towards Will ever since she first met him, something she finds somewhat miraculous since the tragic death of her husband.

Atlanta 1975. Officers Amanda Wagner and Evelyn Mitchell are sent to investigate a rape in Techwood; a notorious apartment complex full of prostitutes, pimps and people with too little money to get the hell out. When the women arrive they find a flying-high prostitute and a whole lot of trouble, but no rape victim.

Present day. Will Trent is working a dud soliciting case at the airport, punishment for something meaningless from his superior in the Georgia Bureau, Amanda Wagner. And then a new case makes headlines in the city – a young woman is missing. She looks eerily familiar to Will . . . and when all clues lead to Techwood, he knows why.

‘Criminal’ is the fourth book in Karin Slaughter’s immensely popular ‘Will Trent/Atlanta’ crime series.

It’s that time of year again – when I pick up the latest Karin Slaughter and wander the streets of Atlanta with some of my all-time favourite characters. Oh, how I have missed the likes of Will Trent, Faith Mitchell and Amanda Wagner of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. And, of course, everybody’s favourite Sara Linton whose trek from the original ‘Grant County’ series was officially solidified in her romance with Will in third book, ‘Fallen’.

Something I really enjoyed in the last ‘Will Trent/Atlanta’ installment was Slaughter’s small glimpses into what the 1970’s police force was like for female officers. In ‘Fallen’, we learned more about Amanda Wagner and Evelyn Mitchell, through their reminiscing about the early days in the force when there was no such thing as ‘sexual harassment’ and the black officers didn’t even have a precinct building. I was really fascinated by the tidbits Amanda shared, so was delighted to learn that in ‘Criminal’, Slaughter would be taking us back to the 1970’s, as a present-day investigation has echoes of the past . . .

Amanda Wagner is in her early 20’s when we meet her in 1975. She is the daughter of Duke Wagner, a veteran of the Atlanta police force who has recently been fired, along with many other white senior officers, when a new (black) chief is appointed and does a shake-up of the totem pole. Though she is police royalty around these parts, Amanda knows her place in the hierarchy – and that is bottom of the rung. The colored and white officers may be at constant logger-heads, with barely-restrained tension wafting through the office . . . but the men are all united in one thing; their disdain of skirts in uniform. Sure, female officers are given equal pay and they wear the same uniform (exact same – down to their men’s shoes) but catcalls are their morning greeting at roll-call, Amanda is expected to write reports for her lazy superior and avoiding a game of grab-ass with whoever her partner is for the day is just part of the job. Evelyn Mitchell is a different story. She’s happily married to an understanding man, and she has a baby boy at home. But after a year or so on maternity leave she’s back, and none of the other female officers can understand why, exactly. Sometimes Evelyn doesn’t really know why either; like all the other women, she hates the way she’s treated by the men, though she can’t even dream of a day when things will be different or better. And then something unusual happens. Evelyn and Amanda are assigned together, on a job that takes them to Techwood and down a rabbit hole of intrigue. . .

The 1970’s Atlanta police force was a God-awful place, as Slaughter brilliantly details. It was a hot-bed for sexism and racism, a veritable jungle where white men ruled and everyone else was just fodder. Slaughter dipped into this in ‘Fallen’, when she explained that it wasn’t until 1962 that black officers were even allowed to arrest white suspects. But with ‘Criminal’ being partly set in 1975, Slaughter is able to go into the nitty-gritty truths of what it was like back then. And it was not pretty, at all. For one thing, it wasn’t too long ago that the Klan was running the Atlanta police force – it was compulsory for officers to join the Klan upon entering the force, and paying their dues to them same as they did the Fraternal Order of Police. Even after black officers joined the force many of the higher-up officers (Amanda’s father included) kept their affiliation with the Klan; she puts it down to their German roots, but it’s also simply the fact that it’s what they know, their tradition. Slaughter writes the warfare between colored and white officers as always at boiling-point, with the potential to tip over at any second;
The radio clicked. Amanda heard the in-and-out of a man’s voice. There were pockets all over the city where the radios had little or no reception, but that wasn’t the problem. A black officer was calling for backup, which meant the white officers were blocking the transmission by clicking the buttons on their mics. In the next hour, a white officer would call for help and the blacks would do the same.
And then someone with the Atlanta Journal or Constitution would write an article wondering why there had been a recent spike in crime.

But the barely-restrained hatred between white and colored officers is nothing compared to what the women put up with. Quite a few times Amanda or Evelyn touch on the feminist and Women’s movement going on around them (Gloria Steinem is a prominent figure by this point, with Germaine Greer slowly gaining recognition). But none of that affects the Atlanta police department. Sexual harassment is rife, and none of the women are seen as being proper officers. I expected all of that, to be honest. But what I found really chilling was the way the women just take it, as par for the course. I loved Slaughter’s characterization of a young Amanda Wagner – having only known her as the present-day head of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, it was a total head-spin to read her as this meek 20-something officer. Amanda joined the force, mostly, because her daddy was a cop and she wanted to be one too. When we meet her she pushes down her irritations and hurt at the way the male officers treat her – and she doesn’t even stand up for her fellow female officers when the sexual harassment comes frighteningly close to sexual assault. But throughout the course of ‘Criminal’, and during a life-changing investigation, Slaughter slowly puts the pieces of Amanda’s puzzle together . . . we read how she and Evelyn rise above their stations, and we catch glimpses of the tough old girls they will one day become. It is glorious;
Evelyn said, “I wasn’t sure I could go back after Zeke.” She took a deep breath. “But then I thought about how good it feels when I roll up on a call and a woman sees that I’m in charge, and she sees that her boyfriend or husband or whoever’s been whaling on her has to answer my questions. It makes me feel like I’m doing something. I guess it’s how the coloreds feel when a black cop shows up. They feel like they’re talking to someone who understands them.”
Amanda had never thought about it that way, but she supposed it made sense.

‘Criminal’ flips between 1975, during Amanda and Evelyn’s investigation into a slew of prostitution deaths, to present-day Will Trent and Sara Linton navigating their new relationship when a missing-person case side-lines them, and opens old wounds.

I really liked the switching between 1975 and present-day, and I feel like Slaughter really concentrated on character-building during her present-day chapters. ‘Criminal’ is, without a doubt, Will’s book. I refuse to give anything away, but this is the novel in which readers and Sara learn all about Will’s terrible past and why he is the way he is. . . and I loved that. I always say that what keeps me coming back to Slaugher’s series’ is the messy but fascinating lives of her protagonists –and I feel like I got those delicious complications in spades for Sara and Will in ‘Criminal’. I thought that at the end of ‘Fallen’, with the reappearance of Will’s crazy wife Angie, that ‘Criminal’ would have a larger focus on her as a complication for Will and Sara’s new relationship. But I can now see that there was a lot more that Sara had to know about Will’s childhood before Slaughter could start dealing with his current romantic predicaments . . . but I will say that I have high-hopes that the next ‘Will Trent/Atlanta’ book will have a big focus on those very predicaments.

‘Criminal’ was an incredible installment in Slaughter’s addictive series. In this fourth book that switches between past and present Atlanta, we read about the case which shaped Amanda Wagner and Evelyn Mitchell into the powerful women they would one day become. And we discover how Will’s past has been plaguing and holding power over him since childhood, likewise determining the man he has become.


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