In brief: In Atlanta, 1974, someone is shooting police. The police force is no place for women, but can Kate and Maggie stick it out?
The good: This is a book that will have you up all night.
The not-so-good: Some of the characters are sexist, racist, violent (or all three) – but somehow, it all works.
Why I chose it: My mum really likes Karin Slaughter’s books, so I decided to take her advice. Thanks to Random House Australia for the eARC.
Pages: 416 (eARC)
Publisher: Random House
Setting: Atlanta, Georgia (USA)
My rating: 10 out of 10
My mother has always enjoyed Karin Slaughter’s books and suggested I read them too. I’ve always resisted for no particular reason besides…well, that’s what kids do, isn’t it? Ignore their mum’s advice. It took an email from Random House to convince me to try Karin Slaughter with her new stand-alone book, Cop Town. Like most kids, I realise now that I should have listened to my mother. This is an awesome book that will have you riveted to your seat for the duration – one of those that will make you consider whether you are ‘ill’ enough to stay at home to finish it. (If you don’t chuck a sickie, you’ll have part of your mind on Cop Town all day, like I did). The book is in parts violent, sexist, and racist but it’s ultimately a book celebrating the power of women in a changing landscape.
Cop Town is set in Atlanta, Georgia in 1974. I can’t remember reading a book set in Atlanta since Gone with the Wind, and oh boy, things have changed since Scarlett O’Hara’s time. Peachtree Street is now in the central business district and things are a lot meaner. It seems nearly everyone is packing (guns that is) and some areas are no-go zones, full of drugs, pimps and crime. There are many descriptions of condoms and syringes lying in gutters full of rubbish. Atlanta’s police have their work cut out for them, so it’s no wonder that the boys band together on and off duty. It’s the introduction of policewomen that has their heckles raised the most. For the few women in the force, their life is a misery from the sexual slurs and pictures to having their change room located in a broom closet. Southern chivalry this ain’t. For Maggie Lawson, part of a family of cops, she is made to feel like her opinions mean nothing. She’s window dressing, a concession to get the force some money. As for Kate Murphy, coming from a posh part of Atlanta doesn’t help her at all. Nobody wants to help these women – it’s all about being macho and protecting your own in Atlanta’s police force. These women aren’t going to get a break – their uniform is deliberately the wrong size and they’re deliberately made to feel like rubbish from all sides.
The police force is on edge the day Kate Murphy starts working. A policeman has been killed overnight, the latest in a spate of cop killings. The police are out to catch the culprit, once and for all. There are no holds barred. Many guns will be fired and there will be many twists as the killer is hunted down in a bloody fashion. The women are on the fringe once again, but they’re determined to do their bit. Can they outsmart the men? More importantly, will they be recognised for their contribution?
Cop Town is gritty and addictive reading. There’s violence, sometimes over the top, but it seemed to fit in with the image being portrayed of the police. The Caucasian men in particular feel threatened and insecure as their way of life is changing – there’s a new African-American chief and they’re letting women on the beat! The violence is sometimes in desperation, sometimes for a need to feel superior and in control, sometimes excessive and sometimes needed to save lives. Corruption is rife. I felt it all fit with the story and wasn’t gratuitous. It’s not too gory either. Plus, it leads to some scenes at the Grady Hospital which shows you how different the healthcare system is to Australia. Grady is a public hospital, caring for the poor – no money required to be seen. But the dilapidation shows in the number of people waiting, the state of the buildings and how doctors come to get experience in trauma from knives, guns etc. It’s not pretty.
Cop Town also reveals some of the excessive attitudes towards women. Kate and Maggie are treated as they’re little more than objects for the men to humiliate and ogle. Maggie’s mum also thinks she’s a waste of oxygen (details as to why are revealed later in the book), making Maggie think she’s not really worthy of…anything. Kate comes from a different place, more sheltered and loving, and it takes time for her to get used to the brutality on the streets. The other female cops don’t think she has what it takes to make it – but is there more to Kate than what they’ve read in her file?
Racism is also rampant in this story through some of the characters. There seems to be a hierarchy with the white men first at the expense of all other races, with women the lowest of the low. African-American people and those of Jewish descent are particularly deplored by the core of white men who think they run the show. But as they lose their grip, there appears to be an opportunity for everyone else to show their talents…
Cop Town is fast paced and action packed. It’s also loaded with a number of landmarks, streets and places that locals would be familiar with and others (like me) can Google to get more of the sense of history (and to learn what a wye is). This book has one of the best plots I’ve read for a long time. I loved it!
Karin Slaughter will also be touring eastern Australia in early August (Byron Bay, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne) – if you are around these areas, do check out her tour dates on the Random House website.