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Thursday, August 1, 2019

'Pieces of Her' by Karin Slaughter

From the BLURB: 

What if the person you thought you knew best turned out to be someone you never knew at all? 

Andrea Oliver's mother, Laura, is the perfect small-town mum. Laura lives a quiet but happy life in sleepy beachside Belle Isle. She's a pillar of the community: a speech therapist, business owner and everybody's friend. And she's never kept a secret from anyone. Or so Andrea thinks. 

When Andrea is caught in a random violent attack at a shopping mall, Laura intervenes and acts in a way that is unrecognisable to her daughter. It's like Laura is a completely different person - and that's because she was. Thirty years ago. Before Andrea. Before Belle Isle. 

Laura is hailed as a hero for her actions at the mall but 24 hours later she is in hospital, shot by an intruder, who's spent decades trying to track her down. 

What is Andrea's mother trying to hide? As elements of the past return and put them both in danger, Andrea is left to piece together Laura's former identity and discover the truth - for better or worse - about her mother. Is the gentle, loving woman who raised her also a violent killer?

'Pieces of Her' is the new stand-alone crime/thriller novel from maestra, Karin Slaughter! 

Much as I adored Slaughter's 'Grant County' series (until it tore my heart out!) and am still loving her 'Will Trent' series, I've been absolutely enamoured of her stand-alone books of late. Her last one, 2017's 'The Good Daughter' was an absolute SMASH and I loved it, so I was super keen to dive into her next with 'Pieces of Her'. 

Andrea and her mother Laura find themselves at an impasse - Andrea moved back home after a failed stint in New York, ostensibly to help nurse her mother back to health after her cancer diagnosis. But Laura is in remission now, and Andrea is still spinning her wheels living at home and taking a crappy job as a police phone operator - and reluctant to let her successful speech-therapist mother know just how much she hated her old life in New York, and is unwilling to return to it. 

There's a great line in which Andrea comments that her mother is a woman "who knows where the lids to her Tupperware are kept" and it's just *chef's kiss* apt character description for a put-together older white lady from the South. 

What changes everything is an incident in a diner, when Andrea and her mother find themselves bystanders in a gun attack. Except Laura isn't a bystander for long - she confronts the young gunman, and turns tables - killing him in a most violent, professional manner ... that multiple people capture on phone-camera, so she makes the nightly news. 

Suddenly Laura's world starts unravelling, and Andrea along with it. 

This set-up is VERY 'A History of Violence' meets the Geena Davis classic 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' ... or so I thought. I was kind of hoping that with this set-up, 'Pieces of Her' would become a mother-daughter cover-operative spy-thriller - but sadly, it becomes Laura sending Andrea off for her own safety, and having to uncover the truth of her mother's past by herself on the road, while Laura stays home and answers to the authorities. 

There are inter-cut flashbacks to Laura's past that keeps readers guessing as to *which* player she is in an unfolding Patty Hearst-esque saga from decades ago ... and I found these interchanges to be quite dull, and the backstory not nearly as thrilling as I'd hoped. Even as I also appreciated Slaughter portraying a nuanced though extreme form of domestic violence, of both physical, emotional and psychological abuse. 

I guess my disappointment came from Slaughter keeping this story relatively grounded, when I kept hoping/expecting it to take off into Jason Bourne type territory. I was also really gunning for a Mother/Daughter "buddy cop" recipe, because the book was most fun when Andrea and Laura were together - and I felt like the second Andrea went solo, the present-day storyline also became dull. I was especially disappointed when a potential relationship with a guy is dangled before Andrea, but it's stalled from really building by having them not team up ... and then that the entire thing ends with an almost Hannibal/Clarice talking scene, that after so little action felt like yet another lull in what should have been a more action-packed finale. 

There's a lot of similarities between 'Pieces of Her' and the (I think) more successful 'The Good Daughter' - namely in both books pivoting around a relationship from the past that's been buried, and re-triggered by a violent tragedy in the present. But 'The Good Daughter' was so pacey and violent, a deeply torturous psychological read that kept me guessing ... where I feel like 'Pieces of Her' kept stalling and never *quite* reaching its full potential. The story just never went the way I wanted it to, and remained sedate instead of kicking pace and characters up a notch. 

It was just 'okay' when I've come to expect 'spectacular' from Slaughter.


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