America in the 1970's was a very volatile and violent country, undergoing a great deal of change. Major events and movements of the period included the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Black Panther movement , the women's movement, gay liberation, much of which were accompanied by demonstrations, some of which were violent. Riots took place in many cities, and this created a backlash amongst mainstream society. The police force in particular were supposed to put down the demonstrations, however they frequently made things worse.
Karin Slaughter in her new novel Cop Town has set it in Atlanta, where the majority of her novels are set, however this time it is November 1974. At the time Atlanta was a city in transition, with lots of violence and unrest. Their first black mayor had been recently elected, and began to challenge the authority of the city's establishment, in particular the police force, which was largely white, male, racist, who regularly took short cuts to make arrests.
The novel opens with the murder of a police officer, a dangerous individual being a Vietnam veteran who is never without a gun in his hand. His partner Jimmy is able to escape from the gunman. He is the latest victim of the shooter, who has already shot dead 4 other police officers. We are then introduced to 2 female police officers: Maggie Lawson, niece of one officer and sister to another. Maggie has joined the police force in an attempt to get a better paying job and also to make her family take her seriously. Kate Murphy is from a wealthy family, and has recently joined the police force. We meet Kate on her first day in the job, when they are paired together on patrol.
Subjected to misogyny and side-lined from the official investigation, they launch their own investigation into finding and stopping the shooter from further attacks. This is compared to the official investigation, where the sole aim is to find someone to pin the crimes on, and then kill him before a trial can take place.
The novel is set over a few days, and we watch these events unfurl. The plot is excellent, with many twists and turns, so that we do not know what is going to happen. I particularly liked the location and the period in which the novel is set in. I found a lot of parallels with American society in the 1970's with contemporary society, in particular a stagnated economy and erosion of the middle class, sexism, racism and homophobia, which began to be challenged during this period. I also found it refreshing that the novel is unashamedly feminist, with Maggie and Kate solving the crime, and defeating their sexist colleagues in the force. There is a lot of violence in the novel, which partly reflects how violent America was at the time; however I didn't feel that all of it was necessary to the plot.
The characterisation was well done, with clearly defined characters, although the bad characters such as Terry seemed rather cartoonish. I found the women characters to be well observed and sympathetic, especially the central characters Kate and Maggie. I found their battles against the male hierarchy of the police force to be both believable and convincing.
This is the first novel by Karin Slaughter that I have read. It is however atypical, as it is both a stand alone novel, and also set wholly within the recent past, unlike her earlier novels which are series based, and set in the present day. There are two series of novels: Grant County series which are set in Georgia, and the Will Trent series, which are set in contemporary Atlanta. Having enjoyed this novel a great deal, I intend to begin exploring her earlier novels.