Fri
Aug 4 2017 3:00pm

Review: The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter

The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter is a searing, spellbinding blend of cold-case thriller and psychological suspense (available August 8, 2017).

In 2015, New York Times and internationally bestselling author Karin Slaughter threw a real-life plot twist at readers when she departed from her beloved William Trent series to offer her first standalone, Pretty Girls. After returning to her roots with last year’s police procedural, The Kept Woman, Slaughter is once again defying expectation with The Good Daughter.

March 16, 1989: Teenage sisters Charlotte (“Charlie”) and Samantha (“Sam”) Quinn—daughters of Pikeville, Georgia’s controversial defense attorney Rusty Quinn—are the victims of a brutal if hastily executed attack. Their mother, Gamma, is shot before their eyes and left to bleed out on the kitchen floor. Sam is also gunned down and left for dead, though she miraculously survives a bullet to the brain. Charlie escapes through the woods, seemingly unscathed (at least physically), and finds sanctuary at a neighbor’s home. It’s the beginning of a waking nightmare that will torment them for decades to come.

Twenty-eight years later, Charlie—the “good daughter,” who’s remained in town and practices criminal law out of the same building as her father—finds her life crumbling around her. A one-night stand with a stranger amplifies her estrangement from her husband, Ben. This indiscretion is made embarrassingly public when Charlie and her paramour—who she knows only as Huck—witness the immediate aftermath of a school shooting that leaves two dead (including an eight-year-old girl) and a community on edge. The trauma of experiencing yet another spontaneous act of violence weighs heavily on Charlie, threatening to unearth long-buried secrets that may be best left below the surface.

Meanwhile, Sam is living in New York City’s Financial District, where she practices patent law and enjoys the opulence of wealth and prestige. Still saddled by physical ailments from that long-ago night, she’s largely muted the emotional ones by severing ties with family and friends back home—despite the fact that Rusty unfailingly leaves her a voicemail on the second Friday of every month and Ben sends an annual birthday email. While she remains glad that Charlie was able to “get away” from their attackers, the two have decided that moving forward together would be impossible, given a shared history that necessitates their looking back. When unexpected circumstances compel her to return to Pikeville, she must choose between self-preservation and the possibility of impending self-destruction.

But there’s no place for personal intrusions in the professional arena—if Rusty has taught them anything, it’s that—and so Sam and Charlie must put aside their grievances to mount a zealous defense on behalf of 18-year-old Kelly Wilson, an impressionable high school student accused of perpetrating the shooting. Rusty believes her to be a “unicorn,” or the rare client who’s actually innocent of the charges brought against her; while the evidence incriminating Kelly appears overwhelming, the sisters know all too well that appearances and actualities are often at odds with one another. Being the infamous Quinn girls is hard enough in a small town where memories run long, and advocating on behalf of an alleged child killer only exacerbates their feelings of displacement. 

Slaughter brilliantly alternates chapters between time periods and perspectives, methodically doling out crucial pieces of information that often shatter long-held assumptions (and the inevitable resentments that accompany those beliefs). Not only does this serve to balance the tension of both storylines, which are grounded as much in emotion as they are in action, but it keeps her characters—and her readers—in a constant state of unrest. The author’s endgame is at once surprising and satisfying, and you can’t help but marvel at the precision of her plotting. The pain of it all is pervasive but also utterly profound—and, at times, poetic. 

The Good Daughter is a stunning work of psychological suspense that will undoubtedly, and deservedly, rank among the year’s very best (crime) novels. Karin Slaughter has an inimitable style that lends itself to complete immersion, and the absolute sense of realism that she captures within her narrative is both awe-inspiring and gut-wrenching. This one will break your heart a million times over and then put the pieces back together again—or at least some of them.

 

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John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.

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1 comment
Chris Wolak
1. Chris.Wolak
A unicorn client?! Love that. Slaughter has been on my 'to be read list' for way too long. I really must get on it and this sounds like a good one to start with.
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