by Karin Slaughter
Karin Slaughter wraps an intense thriller around a legacy of sexism, race relations and politics in the engrossing "Cop Town."
Slaughter, author of the Will Trent best-sellers, keeps her first stand-alone novel from becoming a history lesson by investing it with a gritty, action-packed plot and strong, believable characters.
"Cop Town" opens in 1974, when the appointment of a new public safety commissioner in Atlanta -- the first black man to hold such a position -- promised that change is coming. But in the police department's rank and file, the good ol' boy attitude thrived. New female recruits were verbally harassed, obscene drawings were placed on the door of their small changing room, and they were ignored during investigations.
Over the years on the job, police officer Maggie Lawson had become emotionally hardened. Her family threatens to make her quit, even though her brother Jimmy and domineering uncle Terry are on the force. Maggie is then paired with new recruit Kate Murphy, a recent widow from an affluent family. Kate's arrival coincides with a murder spree by "The Shooter," who has already killed several police officers. Jimmy's partner was murdered in the latest shooting.
Maggie and Kate begin their own investigation into the case, uncovering clues and evidence that the tight network of male cops refuses to acknowledge.
Slaughter's meticulous research of the era infuses "Cop Town" with details that illustrate the tension among the officers who resent that their ranks now include women. It's only when Maggie and Kate work together that they discover their skill in crime detection and their power to change the police force -- and their own lives. The author's evocative look at Atlanta during a watershed decade for the city adds to the plot.
-- Oline H. Cogdill
WHERE ARE THEY?
AND THE PROPHETS, DO THEY LIVE FOREVER?"
by Dave Eggers
Dave Eggers is angry. A writer both beloved and criticized for his distinctly sentimental bursts appears to be seething, worried about crumbling institutions, lost privacy, diminished intimacy and humanity in general.
At least, that's the impression left after digesting Eggers' new, characteristically inventive novel, "Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?" Told through a series of dialogues on an abandoned military base somewhere in California, "Fathers" comes on the heels of two recent Eggers novels that have edged around the idea that something is fundamentally broken in American society.
If Eggers' "A Hologram for the King" was an almost polite elegy for American industrialism and invention, and "The Circle" was a satire cloaking a serious warning about society's growing reliance on technology, "Fathers" is a screaming, bleating cry for society to fix itself. It is a frothing, angry, mournful meditation on what is slipping away as America plows on into the 21st century.
Thomas is a youngish man who has been badly shaken by what, we learn, is a society he feels has failed him. Thomas feels wronged, and he is struggling to understand why institutions big and small -- NASA, the police, his mother -- have failed him and crumbled all around him. Things have gotten quite desperate: As the novel begins, Thomas has kidnapped an astronaut, Kev, and chained him to a post on an abandoned military base. Thomas' goal, if he is to be believed, is not to hurt Kev or anyone else but to ask some important questions; to figure out this mess.
Eggers' decision to make "Fathers" a continuous dialogue is an interesting one. It intensifies the already manic qualities of his protagonist, Thomas, and makes for a lightning quick read. But it has its shortcomings -- so much dialogue makes exposition difficult to execute without having it feel heavily stage-managed. Some of the dialogue doesn't really ring true, doesn't feel all that real. It adds to the feeling that the point of this novel seems to be that it has an important point to make and not so much to tell a story. The plot is almost an appendage, albeit a compelling and at times suspenseful one.
As for the point Eggers is trying to make -- it is a deeply pessimistic one. His society is a society at a loss, utterly perplexed by the serial traumas and changes it is enduring. Thomas is a bit crazed, a bit extreme, but he isn't written as an outlier. Thomas himself assures us there are many like him, normal people who are completely exasperated by modern society, drawn to extremes by growing income gaps and perceived slights and uncertainty of where they fit. People like Thomas don't know why things aren't the way they used to be, why things aren't always on the level, why an astronaut can't even really even be an astronaut as such anymore.
Great writing is about truth, and Eggers' truth clearly is very gloomy. But from a writer often defined by his mirth and hopefulness, this is a distinctly pessimistic turn.
-- Henry C. Jackson
OF THE DEAD"
by Neely Tucker
Neely Tucker's debut novel is an utterly thrilling mystery set in Washington, D.C., in the late 1990s, just before the Internet and the rise of smartphones changed the landscape of print journalism.
Sarah Reese, the teenage daughter of a powerful D.C. judge, is murdered, her body discarded in a dumpster behind a corner shop. Three black kids are arrested and the case against them looks promising, but investigative journalist Sully Carter, who has been curating a map of homicides in the area for several years, thinks her death might be connected to a handful of unsolved cases. He ignores directives to chase other angles of the Reese murder and starts looking into a possible serial killer case.
Carter is a recognizable type, a surly rebel who prizes his story above all. He was a war correspondent in Bosnia and is still struggling with physical and emotional wreckage from that period. His investigation is complicated by an antagonistic relationship with Judge Reese, one that threatens Carter's search for the truth, and his career. It all plays out in a meticulously plotted, fast-paced narrative that vividly renders the D.C. setting (I found myself, perhaps ironically given the setting, using Google Maps as a way of keeping track of where the action was taking place) and taps into the socioeconomic inequity that hinders so many criminal cases from attaining closure. Every character is fully fleshed out and the dialogue is pitch perfect.
For mystery and crime fiction lovers, particularly fans of Elmore Leonard, to whom Tucker dedicates his book, this is a must-read.
-- Michelle Scheraga
YOU'RE KILLING ME!"
Random House India
by Sabaz Imtiaz
The blurb on the back of Saba Imtiaz's debut novel "Karachi, You're Killing Me!" compares the book to the single girl's Bible, "Bridget Jones's Diary."
I take issue with this.
Bridget Jones would never be able to deal with half of the situations that Imtiaz's heroine, Ayesha, successfully navigates. Sure Ayesha drinks too much, makes some atrociously bad decisions about men and complains relentlessly about her job just as Bridget did.
But Ayesha, a journalist in her twenties working in Pakistan's largest city of Karachi, has a toughness and professionalism that Bridget could never achieve.
"Karachi, You're Killing Me!" traces Ayesha's attempts to pursue her journalistic career and find love in Karachi, a massive metropolis on the country's Southern coast. It is a city she either loves intensely or desperately wants to leave. And it's not hard to see why. Her assignments include covering shootouts, the aftermath of bombings and riding rickshaws through the countryside while being pursued by bandits.
What Imtiaz is able to do with her novel is capture the absurdity of reporting and living in a city often billed as Pakistan's most dangerous. Her heroine flits easily from interviewing gangsters in the gang-ridden neighborhood of Lyari to party-hopping through the city's elite Clifton neighborhood, draining hosts of their bootlegged liquor.
In fact, readers who think of Pakistan as a dry country may be surprised to discover that much like an American high school, the complexities of getting liquor and drinking it feature heavily in the novel.
That's perhaps what the novel excels at -- upending stereotypes of Pakistan -- but not in a preachy way.
In a world that often views Pakistani women one-dimensionally, Imtiaz shows the complexity of women trying to forge careers, find love and be a good friend. Imtiaz uses Pakistani references and Urdu-language words often throughout her novel but instead of being off-putting to non-Pakistanis, the technique lends an air of authenticity to the book.
The book is also a bit of a love letter to journalism and the sometimes-charming -- sometimes-psycho -- characters inhabiting the world of Karachi journalism. There's the crime reporter with assassins on speed dial and the newspaper owner who fails to pay his staff for months but still expects them to cover the fashion show where his wife is a model.
She writes with an acid tongue about foreign journalists who come to Karachi to write about fashion shows and one in particular who sleeps with her and then breaks her heart.
I don't think I'm giving any secrets away or robbing prospective readers of the fun of reading this book by saying that Ayesha comes out on top in work and love. According to Imtiaz's website, the author is currently working on a book about the conflict in her hometown of Karachi, which likely won't be as funny as "Karachi, You're Killing Me!" But hopefully we'll read more in the future about Ayesha's adventures.
-- Rebecca Santana