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Saturday, January 2, 2016

Review of "Pretty Girls" by Karin Slaughter

3 Stars
I picked up this novel because it made a few of the Best of 2015 lists and because I had never read this author.  I was not as impressed as I had hoped to be from the comments of other reviewers.

Julia Carroll disappeared two decades ago and what happened to her has never been determined.  The members of her family, of course, have been dealing with her disappearance, each in their own way.  Julia’s two sisters, Lydia and Claire, have been estranged ever since Claire refused to believe that Paul Scott, Claire’s husband, had attempted to rape Lydia.  Things change when Paul is brutally killed and Claire discovers a stash of snuff porn on his computer.  Claire contacts Lydia and the two uncover several family secrets.

The novel is narrated in third person from the viewpoints of Lydia, Claire and their father.  The father kept journals after the disappearance of his eldest child, and entries are interspersed throughout.  It is these journal entries which I found most interesting.  His grief is palpable and his determination to uncover what happened to his eldest child is understandable.

The mother’s reaction is less convincing.  She emotionally absented herself from her family for a number of years so that even her curiosity is “restrained.”  To her mother, Claire implies that she is in danger, yet her mother asks no questions and agrees to help her daughter? 

The relationship between Claire and Paul also stretches credulity.  People in a committed relationship often have secrets from each other, but the nature and number of secrets between this husband and wife are incredible. 

The villain of the novel is portrayed as excessively evil.  He has no redeeming qualities.  As a result, he becomes a virtual stereotype.  The author made no attempt to humanize him.

The first part of the book is interesting.  The focus is on how everyone deals with loss and grief.  The latter half, however, with its cat-and-mouse chase and its over-the-top plot just irritated me.  This second section is very graphic; some of the gruesomeness is reminiscent of Criminal Minds.  The plot is also predictable; the ending is not a surprise in the least.  Actually, I had the feeling that this book was a script for a thriller film.

The title is weak.  At one point, Lydia says, that “’girls don’t like guys who are doormats.  Especially pretty girls.’”  The Carroll girls are pretty and they like men who fight “for the privilege of accommodating” them.  So the theme is that people are shallow?  That’s hardly profound!

This book will appeal to readers who enjoy thrills without expecting a realistic plot.  There’s little substance and much predictability.