When I saw Karin Slaughter’s new book Cop Town was available on Netgalley, I decided to request it, because Slaughter is a crime writer I’ve been curious about. Then I remembered that I had tried Slaughter’s fiction, in the form of the audiobook Martin Misunderstood, and I nearly chose not to read this at all. I really hated that audiobook. But I decided to give this a chapter or two, and that was enough. I had to know what was going to happen.
Cop Town is set in 1970s Atlanta, a place where everything is changing. The once white-male police force is now admitting women, African Americans, and others who once would not have been welcome. Not that they’re exactly welcome now. Women are allowed to serve, but they’re given every reason to quit. Maggie Lawson’s brother and uncle are both cops, but they both seem to recent her intrusion onto their turf. Kate Murphy, a blue-blooded blond, finds that both the men and the women of the force rejecting her when she comes for her first day on the job.
Kate joins the force in the midst of an investigation into a series of cop killings. A man dubbed the Atlanta Shooter has been executing cops, two by two. The most recent victim, Don Wesley, was the partner of Maggie’s brother, Jimmy. Jimmy narrowly escaped being shot himself—or so he says. Maggie is quick to notice that his words about what happened and the evidence she sees in front of her don’t add up. But she’s loath to say anything about it; Jimmy is the force’s golden boy, and Maggie’s just a woman cop.
The story unfolds over the course of just four days, as Maggie and Kate pursue various leads and figure out how they can be the good cops they want to be. And being a good cop is not a straightforward endeavor. Following orders doesn’t always lead to the truth, and sometimes intuition is as valuable as evidence. Plus, fear and anger are real, and they affect even a good cop’s judgment.
Fear is at the root of a lot of the problems the characters encounter in the novel. The men who’ve been on top of the heap for so long are afraid of change. Some—both men and women—have secrets that they are afraid will be revealed. The regressive views espoused by many of the characters are extreme, but considering the time and place, they aren’t unexpected. But these views, when rooted in fear, can lead to dangerous consequences as people lash out at those they fear. Better to find ways to work together, because sometimes those who are different prove that their difference is an advantage. Kate’s background, for instance, gives her a way in with a character no one else could have understood—and most would just have scoffed at.
The book moves along at a satisfying pace, with new angles to the mystery and perspectives on the characters moving the plot forward. The pressure cooker environment forces Kate and Maggie and the others to look hard at their own propensity to give in to fear and commit evil acts themselves. Learning to be a good cop means getting a handle on that aggression, using it purposefully and ethically. The better cops in this book don’t lack fear, but they don’t let their fear master them.
Review copy obtained through Netgalley.