Friday, August 8, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

     In 1974, it was tough to be a police officer in Atlanta, Georgia. They city was changing. Civil rights had taken hold, and for the men of the Atlanta Police Department, the world was changing. And not for the better. A black man had been elected Mayor, and appointed black men to key positions within the City. The Department was mandated to hire minorities, including women and Jews. A man suspected of killing a police officer a year before was acquitted after it was suspected that evidence was planted. And a new cop killer, dubbed The Shooter, was on the loose in Atlanta.
     Cop Town by Karin Slaughter revolves around a family of police officers: Jimmy Lawson, his sister Maggie Lawson, and their Uncle, Sgt. Terry Lawson, and new recruit Kate Murphy, whose first day on the job follows the most recent cop killing. It is chock full of violence, racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, alcoholism; and that’s just among the Lawson family.
     Cop Town wonderfully highlighted the attitudes I presume were very common among police officers in the 1970s, dealing with what was the beginning of a war on the –isms listed above. A war that, while moved largely underground, is still being waged today. The plot moved quickly, although not unpredictably, keeping me interested from beginning to end. The characters were caricatures of what each of them were to represent; static exaggerations of the stereotypes of their times. The alcoholic, racist, sexist cops; the streetwise, foul mouthed, smoking, drinking, woman assigned as a street walker; the local hero, former football star, who has a dark secret that would destroy his reputation among his peers; the wise old grandmother, who survived the holocaust to give sound, liberating advice; the rookie officer, na├»ve to the other side of Atlanta; the womanizing doctor, who proudly proclaimed, “My wife is for making babies. You’re for fucking.”
Author Karin Slaughter
          But there is more to Cop Town than a statement on the state of law enforcement in Atlanta in the 1970’s wrapped in a police procedural. It demonstrated the different worlds that exist in close proximity: the rich and poor, black and white, men and women.  Kate, the rookie officer, attempted to talk about some of her experiences with her father, who gave this advice:

“My point is that you see these people in a way that I will never see them. Your experiences are no longer my experiences. I can’t guide you any longer because I don’t know where you’re going.”

     It also demonstrated that people can be flawed in many ways, but in other ways do many good things.

“So I listened to this one particular violent asshole today, and he was disparaging President Kennedy, saying Bobby’s assassination was a godsend. Disparaging the mayor, blacks, women, me…And yet he was in the war, too…He helped liberate the camps. He freed people from enslavement, from death…And I have to assume that in his capacity as a policeman, at some point, perhaps many points during his day, he helps people then, too…How can they be so awful, yet they do these good things?”

     And finally, in many ways, Ms. Slaughter hit the nail on the head when it came to the nature and personalities of police officers, even if they were taken to extremes. Sometimes it was awful; the racism, sexism, anti-Semitism. But sometimes it was humorous.

She thought that the girls were bad at her high school…there was no society more viciously controlled by rumor than your local police force.

     Whether you are looking for good, fast paced crime fiction, want to read about policing in the 1970’s, or just want to be submersed in an extreme example of police culture, Cop Town is for you. 

Slaughter, Karin. Cop Town, Delecorte Press, July 2014. 
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345547491

Cop Town was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via
No compensation was received for this review.