HarperCollins | 2017 (13 July) | 512p | Review copy | Buy the book
Twenty-eight years ago Charlie Quinn’s life was ripped to pieces around her. Her father Rusty, a defence attorney, was notorious in the small town of Pikeville for his defence in court of the indefensible. As a result, his wife, known as Gamma, paid the ultimate price during a vengeful attack on their family home. Gamma was shot dead, Charlie’s elder sister Sam was shot and left for dead in a stream and Charlie herself had to run for her life. She did survive but that day could never be forgotten and its effect on her relationships could never be underestimated, even all these years later as she makes her own name as a lawyer, following in her father’s footsteps, always the good daughter.
Pikeville is hit by violence again. A shooting at the school leaves two people dead and a town in shock and bewilderment. Charlie was a crucial witness and what she sees makes her confront her own past, unlocking the secrets that she had kept buried within her for so many years. As her family gathers around her, truths must be revealed, however painful they might be, because the past never died.
The Good Daughter is a stand alone novel and it is superb. I haven’t read a Karin Slaughter novel before (that is true, I’m afraid) and so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but I was surprised by the directions in which The Good Daughter took me. This isn’t a crime novel as such but instead a hugely impressive and engrossing scrutiny of a family and small town in America during their darkest days. It is entirely character driven and succeeds because the people that we meet inside this substantial novel are three-dimensional, vital and very real.
At the heart of the novel is the Quinn family and we move through past and present to understand what has happened to them and why. Charlie and Sam embody the novel’s friction and conflict but this expands to include Charlie’s husband Ben and, arguably the most dominating figure in the novel, her father Rusty. Rusty is a tour de force, with a public face. But as we learn something of his private self, it’s painfully revealing. Shadowing them all, though, is Gamma – that extraordinary wife and mother whose life was wiped out in an instant. And new crimes in the present day reflect the pain of the past, more victims, more hatred, more vengeance, forgiveness impossible. Some of this is quite painful to read. The most brutal elements are only revealed bit by bit and in the most shocking manner. The surprises in this novel are stunning.
This is a small town in which everyone knows everybody else and is fed by ignorance and prejudice. This is most apparent in the court scenes – female lawyers are expected to behave and dress in a certain way. There is a sense that this town carries its pain within and it’s difficult for those who live there ever to escape it. Pikeville is brilliantly drawn by Karin Slaughter, as are its buildings, its homes, courtrooms and schools.
The greatest achievement of The Good Daughter is Charlie Quinn. This novel presents a process of self-learning and understanding that holds the reader in a tight grip. This is a compelling and powerful read. It’s dark and painful, with some pitiable characters, but it is also about the difficult process of survival and healing and coming to terms with the truth. This is a significant novel, giving me so much more than I was expecting.