Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

Cop Town Karin SlaughterSince her first novel, Blindsighted, made the CWA’s Dagger Award shortlist for “Best Thriller Debut” of 2001, US author Karin Slaughter has sold more than 30 million copies of her books and been published in 32 languages. Most of her novels are detective thrillers, set in present day Georgia. Her latest release, Cop Town, is a departure, a crossover between detective and general fiction.

Set in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1974, Cop Town portrays a hell-hole of bigotry, racism, misogyny, homophobia, religious sectarianism and class suspicion. The story follows a rookie police officer as she starts her career in a newly gender-conscious department. From a privileged background, newly widowed Kate Murphy is partnered with working class Maggie Lawson, the first female police officer from a cop family. Class isn’t the only barrier which divides these woman as they set about trying to find the culprit of a recent spate of cop killing. Each has to work hard to earn her place in the male-dominated force, and there’s little female solidarity shown – at least, initially.

Throughout the novel, Slaughter challenges stereotypes of women as “naturally” collaborative and supportive, peacemakers and homemakers. Rather, she shows her female characters actively resisting the expectations of such roles, their struggles typical of the era before “women’s lib” took hold.

Australian crime authors P M Newton and Angela Savage have discussed how violence against women is used as entertainment in much recent crime fiction. For this reason, I found Slaughter’s portrayal of women not just as victims of violence, but also as perpetrators, particularly interesting – and problematic. In our current age of the “war against terror” and extraordinary renditions, Slaughter’s seemingly unselfconscious reversal of gender stereotypes runs the risk of reinforcing yet another female stereotype, that of the ball-breaker.

The portrayal of women isn’t the only problematic element of the book. For me, the serial cop killer motif lacks sufficient motivation to be really convincing, although the ending is thrilling and rewards the reader’s persistence.

The strength of the novel lies in its sociological portrayal of a white, male power structure on the wane. As Maggie Lawson says to her abusive cop uncle Terry:

I think the whole world is gonna change. For me. For Kate. For the blacks. For the browns, yellows, greens. For you. Especially for you.

In this light, Cop Town gives an insight into the beginnings of a revolution in cultural values that is still being played out today.

Karin Slaughter will be touring Australia in August (details here).

~

An ebook copy of Cop Town was kindly provided to me by the publishers through Netgalley.

Title: Cop Town
Author: Karin Slaughter
ISBN: 9781473507913
Published: 19 June 2014
Publisher: Random House Australia

ISBN: 978147350791

ISBN: 9781473507913
Published: 19/06/2014
Imprint: Cornerstone Digital

– See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/karin-slaughter/cop-town-9781473507913.aspx#sthash.DaYsqYLu.dpuf

ISBN: 9781473507913
Published: 19/06/2014
Imprint: Cornerstone Digital

– See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/karin-slaughter/cop-town-9781473507913.aspx#sthash.DaYsqYLu.dpuf

ISBN: 9781473507913
Published: 19/06/2014
Imprint: Cornerstone Digital

– See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/karin-slaughter/cop-town-9781473507913.aspx#sthash.DaYsqYLu.dpuf

Hades by Candice Fox – a disturbing debut

When I first read Candice Fox’s debut novel Hades earlier this year, I couldn’t bring myself to review it. Its themes are so dark, I couldn’t get over the emotional impact it had on me enough to write about it.

Dark themes, drawn from a chaotic childhood. Fox grew up as part of a “shared” foster household where encounters with police and visits to prison were routine.

As an author, I’ve spent years trying to shut out the late-night knocking, the grisly stories half-heard around the kitchen corner, the screaming and the crying and the wild eyes, by writing myself into safe places, predictable places. But lately, all that darkness has been creeping back in.

Because, really, the best writers will tell you that you should write what you know. I’ve known how bad the world can be from the very beginning. (Read more here.)

Hades Candice FoxRereading the book months later I was able to detach. I knew already the terrain it covered and could concentrate on the author’s skill – in coming up with the plot, in characterising the villains as heroes and the heroes as both victims and perpetrators, and in setting the scene.

Hades is a hard book to classify, though its title gives some clue. “Hades” refers to one of the book’s characters, a “fixer” for Sydney’s underworld who takes in two orphaned children, Eden and Eric, and raises them to become police officers – and avengers of their murdered parents. But Hades the Fixer isn’t the central character; the book’s narrator Detective Frank Bennett is. The story switches from third person flashbacks showing Hades and the children, to Frank’s first-person narration, to the points of view of various victims of a serial killer. The hunt for the serial killer provides the chief narrative drive and opportunity for moral questioning of the story. In this context, “Hades” refers more to the place of torment and suffering that many of the book’s characters appear to occupy. The language of morality pervades the book, nudging it from crime into the realms of horror – without ever being supernatural. As Fox has named Stephen King as the person she’d most like to be trapped in a lift with, perhaps this horror element isn’t surprising.

As crime-horror, the novel poses a number of ethical and moral questions. What creates a killer – nature or nurture? When is taking another human being’s life justified – if ever? What happens to victims of crime? What moral stance would we take if faced with the prospect of imminent death versus the chance of survival? Does every human being deserve to live, no matter what?

With a page-turning plot and enviable style, Fox’s narrative forces the main character – and the reader – to confront these questions.

One of the admirable features of Fox’s writing is her way of accomplishing several narrative tasks at once. In the following example, where Frank the narrator observes his new colleagues, Fox manages to characterise the narrator, provide backstory, introduce secondary characters in an interesting way, set the mood and foreshadow major themes:

My mother had been a wildlife warrior, the kind who would stop and fish around in the pouches of kangaroo corpses for joeys and scrape half-squashed birds off the road to give them pleasant deaths or fix them. One morning she brought me home a box of baby owls to care for, three in all, abandoned by their mother. The men and women in the office made me think of those owls, the way they clustered into a corner of the shoebox when I’d opened it, the way their eyes howled black and empty with terror. (Kindle location 142)

Rereading Hades, I highlighted countless examples of fine writing, way too many to include here.

The overall impression created by the story is that good and evil aren’t separable. As Eric remarks to Frank about working for the police:

This job is about knowing each other, Frank. It’s about knowing each other’s secrets and ignoring them. We’re all good guys here. No one’s better than anyone else. We’re all dirty. We’ve all got something shadowing us.

It’s my hunch Fox thinks this is also true about human nature.

Hades is a very interesting read.

~

Hades by Candice Fox was published 1st January 2014 by Random House Books Australia (Bantam imprint) ISBN: 9780857981172. Review copy kindly supplied by the publishers via NetGalley.

This review forms part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge and Aussie Author Challenge.

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