Book Review: Girl, Forgotten by Karin Slaughter

In Karin Slaughter's Girl, Forgotten, newly minted US Marshal Andrea Oliver investigates a cold case with links to her father’s past. Read on for Doreen Sheridan's review!

I love Karin Slaughter—she’s never written a book that wasn’t amazing—but I am bad at being her fangirl. I didn’t realize Girl, Forgotten was the sequel to Pieces of Her (recently turned into a Netflix series starring Toni Collette) until well after I’d finished reading the former. Which should also tell you how well Ms Slaughter writes, that even though I now want to go and experience those other related media, I still feel fully satisfied having read this as a standalone, with no prior introduction to the series.

But what else would I expect of one of the finest crime thriller authors working today? Each of her stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading has been exquisitely plotted, and this is no different. Shifting back and forth between the present day and 1981, the book follows two timelines tied together by one monstrous figure.

In the present, Andrea Oliver has decided to wrest back control of her life by taking the perhaps extreme measure of qualifying for the US Marshals, much to the displeasure of her mother Laura. The mother-daughter duo are still enrolled in the Witness Security program after Laura turned in her cult leader lover, Nick Harp, sending him to prison for a good long stretch. Having Andrea willingly jump right back into danger is a nightmare for her, but an opportunity for her brother, Senator Jasper Queller, to pull some strings in order to recruit Andrea on a mission to help keep Nick behind bars.

Forty years ago, a young woman named Emily Vaughn became pregnant after a party with her closest friends. She has no recollection of what happened that night, but her mother Esther, a conservative judge, insists she keep the baby and abandon her plans for college in favor of raising the child instead. Emily tries her best to maintain a semblance of normalcy, even attempting to attend her prom while visibly pregnant, but the whole town seems to have turned against her:

When she had thought about how this night would go down[,] Emily had expected to feel every emotion but the one she was feeling now, which was exhaustion. Mentally, physically, she felt incapable of doing anything but turning around and walking back the way she’d come.

 

So she did.

 

The crowd was still parted, but the mood had turned decidedly towards pitchforks and scarlet ‘A’s. Boys gritted their teeth in anger. Girls literally turned their backs. She saw teachers and parents shaking their heads in disgust. What was she doing here? Why was she wrecking the night for everyone else? Jezebel. Whore. She had made her bed. Who did she think she was? She was going to ruin some poor boy’s life.

As if this vicious treatment weren’t enough, Emily’s savaged body is found in a dumpster soon after. The local cops end up being incapable of solving her killing, but the boy who grows up to become Nick Harp remains one of their prime suspects. Since there’s no statute of limitations on murder, Jasper is convinced that Andrea can take a run at the case and find the evidence they need to deny Nick parole, while coincidentally serving as Judicial Security for the now aging Esther.

Andrea is up for the task, even if she has to lie to her own mother about what she’s doing—the last thing Laura wants is for her daughter to have anything to do with Nick, however tangentially. This, of course, doesn’t help bolster the self-confidence that Andrea’s still working on after the terrifying series of events that prompted her to join up with the Marshals in the first place. 

But at least she has some support in her new partner, veteran Marshal Leonard “Catfish” Bible. He refuses to let her talk negatively about herself or her skills, instead mentoring her with wry observations, such as these on the two types of people US Marshals meet—those willing to talk to you, and those who’d prefer not to:

“With each type, you gotta ask yourself–why? If he clams up, that don’t always mean he’s a bad fella. Maybe he’s seen videos of people who look like you hurting people who look like him. Or maybe he just wants to go about his business and keep his dang mouth shut. And that’s fine, because not talking to the police is your inalienable right as an American citizen. Hell, you ever read your employment contract? Every law enforcement union makes ‘em put it in writing that you cannot interview an officer unless that officer has a lawyer present. That’s some real goose/gander irony right there.”

Bible is a terrific partner for a self-doubting Marshal on her very first assignment, even if Andrea is keeping secrets from him as they investigate who’s been sending death threats to Esther. But Andrea might not be able to keep quiet about her investigations for much longer when she and Bible run into what looks disturbingly like a local cult with connections to both Esther and Emily. Will Andrea be able to overcome her insecurities and learn to trust both herself and the people she must rely on as she attempts to solve the mysteries festering under the skin of Esther’s small town?

The juxtaposition of the present day with the more unforgiving 1980s is brutal, as Ms Slaughter vividly depicts how much better things have become in the United States since then. I must admit though that I’ve never felt older than when I immediately recognized an item that the thirty-three year-old Andrea did not, in one of the many sly clues threaded throughout the excellent narrative. Even more impressive than the plot was the depiction of the twisted relationships that first Emily, then Andrea has to navigate in their pursuits of the truth. And while the novel ends on an ominous note, this is hopefully, as Bible predicts, just the first successfully solved case in Andrea’s long and storied career.

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