Why I Stopped Reading Karin Slaughter’s New Thriller

I’ve been reading and reviewing crime fiction for years but haven’t opened a Slaughter book in awhile.  I remember the last one I read had too much “femjep”–a term mystery writers and readers use the author putting a woman in ridiculously threatening situations.

Still, I was drawn into her new book Pieces of Her because the opening scene was reminiscent of one in Joseph Finder’s terrific High Crimes (though not as well done). Andy is a self-pitying young woman who’s failed to make it in New York after five years and she’s gone home to Atlanta.  She’s having a mall meal with her tough-but-loving mother when crazy violence erupts, her mother acts way out of character, and the daughter has to flee.

The shocking disruption intrigued me despite very confusing choreography, but the daughter’s reactions were annoyingly slow.  She’s the kind of character in a movie you keep yelling at: “Don’t open that door!” or “Turn on the lights!” or “Run outside, not upstairs!”  And in fact, her mother plays just that role, because Andy is too feckless to get her ass in gear despite her mother’s urgent commands.

But the whole I-just-saw-my-mother-do-crazy-shit motif really hooked me, even though the writing in the book can feel surprisingly amateurish. Here are some gems:

Her brain felt like it was being squished onto the point of a juice grinder.

The last few days had been like tiptoeing around the sharp end of a needle.

Andy’s head was reeling as she tried to process it in her mind’s eye.

Suddenly all of Andy’s nerves went collectively insane.

The editor in me started noting problems that went beyond Slaughter’s prose, mistakes that the author shouldn’t have made, mistakes a copy editor should have caught.  Both could have found the answers on Google, used wisely.

Churchill experts, for instance, will tell you that Churchill never said “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  George Santayana, however, did say “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  And Samuel Beckett is not best known as the author of “Irish avant-garde poetry” but as a playwright (Waiting for Godot) and a novelist.

Goofs like those in any kind of fiction throw me out of the story as much as iffy phrasing.  I start wondering how careful the author was in gathering her facts, and what other mistakes might lie ahead.  Here, the hot mess of errors and odd images almost kept me reading out of morbid curiosity–but the story got so convoluted and  repetitious that I finally gave up midway.

Lev Raphael is the author of twenty-five books in genres from memoir to mystery.  His latest book is the suspense novel Assault With a Deadly Lie.  He teaches creative writing online at writewithoutborders.com.

9 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Reading Karin Slaughter’s New Thriller

  1. Lev…. I’ve been looking forward to reading Karin Slaughter’s new book but I’m having trouble with it too… I much prefer her Wil Trent series with Sara… can’t think of her name right now. I was relieved in some way to read your review. I also had trouble with her previous standalones so think from here on in I’ll stick with her series.

    Thanks..

    • Over the years as a reviewer and reader I’ve wondered if best-selling authors get caught in a golden trap: they’re expected to have a book out every year to keep sales going, but don’t always have one that’s topnotch…..

  2. I was disappointed with Slaughter’s latest, also. I like the Will Trent character better than the books he is featured in. Like you, I dislike the level of gore in Slaughter’s book. I tend to do a lot of skipping when I read her.

    I was interested in the possibilities opened up by the premise of Pieces of Her, but the main character was just a little too depressing and slow to catch on. I’m not ready to give up on the author, but I’m pretty wary as I read her.

    On the real-life level, I appreciate Karin’s outspoken of public libraries.

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