Friday, 31 July 2015

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter Review

Julia Carroll was a 19 year old student with a bright future. And then she was apparently abducted and never heard from again. Her disappearance shattered her family. 

Fast forward 24 years to the present day. Julia’s two estranged younger sisters, Lydia and Claire, have grown up to lead wildly different lives. Lydia ended up a junkie but cleaned up when she became a mum. Claire married Paul, an architect who founded a hugely successful firm and became a multimillionaire. 

But Julia’s disappearance still hangs heavily over the Carroll family. After Claire’s husband Paul is stabbed to death, she discovers he was leading a very troubling double life. Will she and Lydia finally discover what happened to Julia? 

I’ve only recently come to Karin Slaughter so Pretty Girls is my first full length novel of hers. I l-u-v-ed Three Twisted Stories so much I was eager for more - and then I realised that collection was a one off. Pretty Girls is the kind of thriller that fits in well with the Gone Girl crowd in that it’s fairly standard crime-type material instead of being sparklingly imaginative. 

That’s not to say the novel is a dud because it’s well written and not at all predictable - for the first half at least. It starts out as a thoughtful look at how something like the abduction of a young woman can affect the family. Lydia and Claire went largely ignored by a father who became obsessed with finding his daughter and a mother who went into shock and became zombie-like. As a result, Lydia turned to bad boys, booze, and hard drugs in a self-destructive spiral, while Claire pinballed from one bad relationship to another, looking for love from anywhere and winding up with a terrible match for a husband. 

Then after Claire’s husband, Paul, dies, it brings Lydia and Claire together and Paul’s secret life begins to come to light. It’s interesting stuff - dark and sick, but compelling. Then there’s the Gone Girl twist at about the halfway mark. All to the good - I was very entertained! 

Then after the twist Pretty Girls becomes an extremely generic, by-the-numbers cat-and-mouse-type “thriller” that was largely tedious to read. I could’ve shrugged that off if this book had been shorter by at least 150 pages (the novel is 544 pages!) because I was in. But it kept going on. And on. And on. One dull, pointless scene after another, repeating. And those letters from Sam the father chapters became interminable! 

The villain is ridiculously evil - it’s not at all a complex depiction of a person, let alone a realistic one. It’s so one-sided, it loses it’s unpredictability as there’s only one way a novel like this can end, and of course that’s how it does. Losing that edge made it boring and I pushed through the rest of the novel not because I was eager to see how it resolved itself (I already knew), but because I wanted to finish it and move onto the next book. 

Pretty Girls has an excellent 350 page thriller nestled inside it that’s bloated out to a 544 page novel for no real reason (unless there’s marketing figures about how bigger books sell more or something, in which case I get it but that doesn’t make it better). It’s well-written, has some great, tense scenes, and I liked Lydia and Claire. But things descend into corny Hollywood action/thriller territory in the last third that gets strung out for far too long causing the novel to lose it’s pacing and inventiveness of plot. 

If you enjoy books like Gone Girl and its ilk, you’ll probably like Pretty Girls, and I’d say Karin Slaughter’s writing is much better than the usual beach-read garbage like James Patterson and Stephen King. It’s an ok thriller but, unlike Three Twisted Stories, Pretty Girls hasn’t given me a hunger for more from this author right now.

Pretty Girls

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