Books of My Life: Karin Slaughter reflects on 2 decades of twisty thrillers
As she readies her landmark 20th novel, prolific murder mystery novelist Karin Slaughter is taking EW through the inspiration behind some of her most memorable tomes.
"It was really stupid of me, but when I wrote this I thought, this is going to be a series. I hadn't even been published. But that's what I love reading, is serial crime novels. When I first started writing Blindsighted I felt like women's stories were not being told by women — not to bash the men writing thrillers at the time because they were doing very good jobs, but they were writing women like a male fantasy. Wearing leather pants and riding a motorcycle and kicking people's asses. I hate to sound all arty-farty but I really found my voice when I started writing crimes that happen to women from a woman’s perspective."
"Around my fourth novel, I realized the [Will Trent series] was going to end and I needed to make sure the books had a place to land. Faithless is definitely an extension of that; there are actually clues in the series that lead to the ending of the final book in the series. It's also a really good example of the importance of writing characters as they would realistically be — I’m writing about a religious cult and I’m not religious. I thought, it would be so boring if they were all stupid and evil, that’s such a stereotype. That’s what I try to do, I try to present both sides. Sometimes it’s really obvious that one side is really not good — I wrote about white supremacists in my last book and clearly there’s no good side there — but I think it’s important, even with that, to show them as more educated and clever people because it’s much more terrifying."
Slaughter feels especially proud of the plot in the first of the Will Trent series of novels. After watching all of society's doors close to a family member who was convicted of a drug felony, she set out to write a book about how difficult this country makes it for anyone who ends up in the criminal justice system — the result is a thriller that follows a teenager charged with a horrific murder. "The question of his guilt or innocence occurs throughout the novel but it shows how once you end up in the system, the system won't let go of you," explains the author. "Even once you pay your dues you can't get a job, a house, start your life. We're extremely punitive towards anyone who enters the system."
Beyond Reach (2007)
The final novel in Slaughter's Grant County series, Beyond Reach sets up the plot for detective Sara Lindon to cross over into the Will Trent series. Slaughter made the occasionally controversial decision to have Lindon's husband murdered, opening the door for her to meet the eponymous Will. "When I started writing these books from the very beginning I thought, I want to be as realistic as possible," she says of the violence in her novels. "And I don’t always let the victims of some of the crimes die; it’s very convenient to have them die. To me, what good crime novels can do is talk not just about the violence but what the violence leaves behind and how people rebuild their lives."
“I was really conscious of the fact that I’d done something horrible to my readers in the previous book, because they certainly let me know how furious they were that Jeffrey had died. With Undone, I knew that I was taking them through a mourning process — I wanted to show that through Sara, with her getting away from everything that reminded her of her late husband and working through the pain and loss. The way that she does it is she gets interested in the world again. She gets pulled into a criminal case and it re-engages the part of her brain she had shut off.”
"I love Amanda and she’s such a ball-breaker," Slaughter says of Will Trent's supervisor at the Georgia Bureau of Investigations. "She’s not necessarily great for women, either — we all know women like that, they get to the top of the ladder and they kick anyone who wants to come up after them. and they think women today have it so easy. In writing this I was thinking about, why are these women that way?"
Pretty Girls (2015)
"This is the book I feel closest to," Slaughter says of the stand-alone novel that follows two estranged sisters decades after the disappearance of their youngest sister. Pretty Girls is narrated by the two women, the author's first time not using the point of view of a detective, medical examiner or formal investigator of a crime. The central mystery surrounds the unsolved disappearance and its potential ripple effects on a current-day murder. "I had to work hard to make it clear how badly affected these two women were by the crime from their youth," she says. "I felt the story was a way to explore the question, how do you bury your grief when you're not even 100% sure that person is gone?"
The Silent Wife (2020)
Slaughter describes her newest novel (out August 4), part of the Will Trent series, as "just a really entertaining story." Will investigates a murder that is connected to what may have been a wrongful conviction of Grant County mainstay Jeffrey Tolliver — the onetime chief of police and Sara Linton's late husband. "He bent the rules a little bit sometimes to catch the bad guy, but we always rooted for him," Slaughter says of Jeffrey. "And with everything that’s going on right now, I thought, okay, what if Jeffery was wrong about something? What if this hero we thought always got the bad guy, and we didn’t question his methods, what if he’s not right?"