Karin Slaughter’s “Cop Town”

Cop-Town1[1]The drama, nail-biting suspense, and the incredible cast of characters of Karin Slaughter’s Cop Town made me forget all about my plans for the day and kept me glued to the arm-chair until I read the last words of this page-turning thriller.

Cop Town is set in 1970s Atlanta. A serial cop killer, the Shooter, shakes the APD. Four officers were shot, execution style, and now another one is down. In the opening scene, Jimmy Lawson, a former high school football star and now a savvy police officer, carries his partner, gunned down by the Shooter, to the hospital. And the hunt for the criminal escalates.

Karin Slaughter masterfully depicts various worlds of the same city: the slums, the upscale neighborhood, and the police department. The powerful message, voiced by one of the characters, is this: “For every person, Atlanta is a different thing. Yet they all take pride in ownership. They all feel that the city belongs to them, and that their idea of the city is what the city should be. They feel the need to defend it.” 270

Ironically, yes. They all—the poor in the ghettoes, the rich in the upscale neighborhoods, and the cops—have a sense of entitlement to their town and they have attitude.

So what was this cop town like in 1970s?

In 1970s Atlanta, not too many women served on the police force, and those few who did were not treated with respect—either by the general population or by their male colleagues (the subject explored by Slaughter in her novel Criminal). But the female officers in Cop Town are so smart, competent, strong-willed, and determined to succeed in fighting crime that they choose to endure discrimination, misogyny, and blatant sexual harassment rather than quit the job they love. (It beats me, but…there you have it.)

Kate Murphy, born with a silver spoon in her mouth, has had it all: a privileged family, privileged schools, a privileged social circle, a privileged neighborhood—privileged everything. But now at 25, she’s a widow and she wants something different in her life. After trying various occupations, she chooses police work. Well, she’s got a different life, all right. On her very first day on the job, she patrols the streets of the ghetto, chases after prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, murderers, and gets ridiculed and scorned by her fellow officers. So what can be more different from her previous sheltered life than all that? Will she quit after one day, as her co-workers expect, or will she surprise them by showing up the next day? Kate ponders this dilemma very seriously. And decides to show up. But her second day is worse than the first, and the third one is even worse. Will she have enough guts to stay on the job, or will she withdraw back into her insulated world?

Maggie Lawson, Kate’s partner, comes from a cop family. But that fact doesn’t make her family proud as you might expect. No encouragement or praise of her dedication and competence from them. No, ma’am! They all—her mother, her brother, her uncle—want her to quit. But the blood running in Maggie’s veins is made of “liquid steel,” so she’s not giving up this job, despite the humiliation she has to endure from her male peers and, mostly, from her uncle the brute.

The characters are so well-drawn, so interesting, and so memorable, I hope that Karin Slaughter will not abandon them but let us meet them again in a sequel to Cop Town. In fact, I hope she’s hard at work on it right now. 🙂

Karin Slaughter is a gifted storyteller. I’ve read all of her Will Trent’s series, and I absolutely loved this stand-alone novel.

Highly recommend.

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2 thoughts on “Karin Slaughter’s “Cop Town”

  1. A great book with characters so sharply drawn it is impossible to put down, although I admit I had similar reaction- For each of the main characters, Maggie who comes from a family of cops, and for Kate, you wonder what on earth could prompt them to want to stay on the force considering the avalanche of harassment and abuse they face everyday? They have male mentors who order them to stay in the car or recuse themselves rather than confront criminals, are not given even the slightest iota of encouragement from anyone on the force, have to face deadly situations with either no direction or outright harassment. . . . why would anyone want to continue in such a line of work? The treatment Maggie received from her family was a story in abuse in and of itself to the point where it almost stretched credulity that she could endure their daily verbal and physical torment and find any satisfaction in being a cop (not to mention, I would think someone who has to endure such treatment on a daily basis would be beaten down psychologically). Enjoyed this book a lot with its fascinating characters and insight into a misogynistic and racially divided culture.

    • Beth, I too thought that the abuse Maggie received from her family (mostly her uncle) and her passivity was a little stretched, but then when I discovered that her uncle was actually holding the family’s income in his hands, that they couldn’t open a bank account, that Maggie had to give him her paycheck (in the ’70’! Unbelievable!), I sort of understood her “taking it.” Why did Maggie stay on the job, though? You know WHO goes on all these killing sprees nowadays? Mostly those who’ve been (or still are) bullied. That’s their payback. So I think that’s how Maggie’s decision to keep doing this job can be explained, too. As a bullied person, she craved to have and exert power on someone that she could–the criminals! She, and all the other female cops, were bullied by the system, too. (Back to that discrimination against them–couldn’t do anything without a man’s approval/signature!) Remember what satisfaction those girls got from beating that prostitute? Kate was appalled, but…she admitted later that, to her own surprise, she too wanted to beat her up! As they say, there’s good and bad in every human being, but whether you act up on the bad is up to you. Maggie got her revenge at the end–when her despicable uncle ended up as “half-a-man” physically. Frankly, I wanted him dead! (my “bad” side talking), but then I thought, No, this is better for him–to suffer like this, to not be able to abuse anyone anymore, to be dependent on others, literally. Speaking about Kate, it is a puzzle for me why she decided to stay on this job. That for me was a real stretch. But…I hope we’ll meet these girls again–in a sequel! 🙂
      Thanks for your response, Beth.

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