Title: Cop Town
Hardback: 398 pages
Publication Date: 17/07/2014
Having first experimented with a historical element back in 2012’s Criminal, Karin Slaughter has gone further in her most recent novel, Cop Town. Whilst Criminal used a dual, related set of story arcs – one set in the present and one forty years in the past – in Cop Town Slaughter has produced a novel that is completely historical.
Set in 1974 Atlanta, the novel revolves around two female characters. Kate Murphy, from a well-to-do family but recently widowed, is in her first week as a cop in the Atlanta police force. And Maggie Lawson – a young police patrolwoman from a family of male cops, but struggling to prove her worth in their eyes. When a brutal cop killing shakes the city, Kate and Maggie find themselves paired together (more through the fact that they are both quickly sidelined by their male colleagues). And against this backdrop of a town and era riven by gender, race and sexuality inequality they set about trying to hunt down a vicious killer, one who is stalking Kate.
Slaughter’s first full-length standalone, whilst very different in its historical setting, cleverly refrains from moving too far away from the elements that have made her previous novels so successful. Indeed, Cop Town uses many the elements that have worked so well in her Grant Count / Atlanta series. And, by and large, these work very well – although I did feel that the use of POV narrative for the killer, ‘Fox’, possibly wasn’t completely successful. In her modern-day crime novels, Slaughter has used this device as a means to get into the mind of her killers. However, for me, something about Fox just didn’t completely ring true – compared to the environs and other characters his voice felt a little too ‘modern’. But using the POV element did allow for some moments of incredible tension, so this was only a small gripe.
But the two main characters, Kate and Maggie, were both well-drawn and engaging, with their burgeoning partnership well developed. Although they are initially fairly antagonistic towards one another, as the reader you know that they are highly likely to become close. But Slaughter avoids making this shift from adversary to ally to quickly – which would be both unnatural and too plotted. Which allows for each of the characters to build up an impression of the other; impressions which are either eroded or proven true as the novel develops.
And, whilst it was very informative and eye-opening, I also found myself having to constantly check to make sure that it really was writing about 1974. For, it was a year that was a little over a decade before I was born, and yet seems totally alien to me. I have no idea whether others orientate themselves in this manner, but I have always used my birth year as a means of contextualising ‘history’ in relationship to my own world experiences. And Cop Town really drove home the notion that what seems to me like history, is actually – in the grand scheme of things – not that far removed from the present day (and in many cases, issues that were writ large over 1974 Atlanta are still problems today).
However, for those who are already fans of Slaughter’s books, but are conversely not necessarily fans of historical fiction, I would give a reassurance. For Cop Town does not wear its history and issues in a heavy manner, and the hallmarks of Slaughter’s writing – snappy dialogue, fast plots and big reveals – are all there in abundance. It will be interesting to see how Slaughter proceeds beyond this book, as I certainly got the feeling when finishing the final pages that this standalone has the potential to be a series. And that would certainly be something to look forwards to.