Thursday, July 26, 2018


PIECES OF HER by Karin Slaughter (HarperCollins, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Andrea Cooper knows everything about her mother, Laura. She knows she’s spent her whole life in the small beachside town of Belle Isle; she knows she’s never wanted anything more than to live a quiet life as a pillar of the community; she knows she’s never kept a secret in her life. Because we all know our mothers, don’t we?

But all that changes when a trip to the mall explodes into violence and Andrea suddenly sees a completely different side to Laura. Because it turns out that before Laura was Laura, she was someone completely different. For nearly thirty years she’s been hiding from her previous identity, lying low in the hope that no one would ever find her. But now she’s been exposed, and nothing will ever be the same again.

Atlanta author Karin Slaughter has shown in her Grant County and Will Trent series that she's a masterful storyteller who doesn't mind treading down the darker paths of crime writing. She has a resume full of knuckle-whitening stories that offer plenty of humanity in characters and relationships as ell. Slaughter has also demonstrated an adroit touch for thought-provoking standalone novels.

For me, Slaughter's COP TOWN (2014) is a masterpiece, one of the best crime tales of the past decade - a substantial textured standalone set against the racist/sexist/pick-your-issue-ist policing of the American South in the 1970s. Her latest novel, PIECES OF HER, is a page-whirring standalone that stomps the adrenaline pedal hard to the floor while still threading in several themes and layers.

Andy is a listless young woman who is meandering through life after returning to her hometown in the South when her mother got breast cancer. She may have jettisoned her Big Apple dreams, but the truth is she wasn't happy in the big city either. Hers is a life unfulfilled, but it's torn from its axis on her 31st birthday, when a mall café lunch with her mother is interrupted by a crazed gunman.

Witnessing two people killed is startling enough, but not as much as seeing her masectomied, middle-aged Mom calmly confronting then dispatching the culprit. Talk about seeing another side of a parent.

When other scary events follow, Andy flees across country, her lifelong anchor lines sliced. 

This is an intense and twisting tale, with a strong forward drive. Slaughter deftly keeps readers off-kilter throughout, as the narrative switches between Andy’s present-day cross-country flight and the escapades of a cult-like group of activists in the 1980s. Violence and threat loom throughout.

PIECES OF HER is a frenetic, stay-up-all-night kind of read. It may not have the sublime texture and richness of COP TOWN, but there are still plenty of thematic and character touches that provide depth and elevate it beyond page-whirring airport thriller. Issues of identity and atonement entwine, and little is what it seems as we hurtle towards the finish. Definitely worth a read.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer. He’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He's been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter

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