I grabbed another police procedural for my second book to read, review and rank for the Mystery Writers of America‘s Edgar award for Best Novel this year: Karin Slaughter’s Cop Town. Slaughter’s a well-established author, like Rankin, albeit a younger one. According to her website, she writes two series, although both are set in Georgia and feature overlapping characters. The book that’s up for an Edgar is a standalone. And what a standalone it is.
Cop Town‘s set in 1974 Atlanta, and the protagonists are officers Maggie Lawson and Kate Murphy. For Maggie, Atlanta is truly a cop town – her brother, her uncle, in fact, most of the guys she knows and grew up with are all with the police. And in Atlanta in 1974, the police department is about as segregated as it gets. White rides with white, black with black, and when it comes to gender… man, no guy wants to ride with a woman. Maggie’s got the street smarts and the experience (mostly from her time with Gail Patterson, an experienced detective, who’s both profane and surprisingly tender). But at home, she’s chopped liver. Her mother dotes on her brother Jimmy while Maggie does everybody’s ironing and takes the back of her uncle Terry’s hand – and worse – whenever he’s angry with her.
Enter Kate Murphy, her first day on the force. Kate’s blonde, beautiful, rich, Jewish and a widow. There’s no hiding the first two attributes, but she keeps the final three well-buried. She’s also smart, determined, and willing to learn.
The world they’re living in: Somebody’s shooting cops, execution-style... and not from a distance. Somehow they’re getting up close and personal, getting the victim to call in for a break, unplug his radio, kneel on the ground and take a bullet to the brain. Only the most recent victim is a little different: It was Jimmy Lawson’s partner who was killed while Jimmy watched, horrified, just a few yards away. And Maggie and Kate are determined to find the killer.
The job’s a tough one, because they not only have to piece together the clues, but they have to do so by crossing the color line (the barriers they have to overcome just to get to talk to a black pimp!) while all the male cops either shut them out or harass them. It takes them just four action-packed days.
Needless to say, Cop Town‘s an out-and-out fantastic crime thriller. The pacing, the police work, the dialogue, plus the occasional sneak peek into the killer’s POV, keeps it moving right along. It’s a gritty book, too. The violence isn’t gratuitous, but Slaughter doesn’t shy away. Add in great, three-dimensional characters and even some character development – you know I’m going to love that. Then, throw in the fact that I was 19 in 1974… man, I can relate to Maggie and Kate. We were all trying to convince ourselves that we could do anything we wanted to do.
Still, how does Cop Town stack up against Saints of the Shadow Bible? That’s a tough one. Saints is a superior Rebus novel, and I love Rebus. In Goodreads parlance, Saints is a five-star book for me, and so is Cop Town. But I’m going to have to give Cop Town the edge for originality. Slaughter’s told a tough story from a unique perspective and done it exceedingly well.