False witness by Karin Slaughter

He saw what you did. He knows who you are … From New York Times best-selling author Karin Slaughter comes up with an electrifying, independent thriller about the flawed protagonist Leigh Collier, a police officer who must solve a case that may reveal the two decades she spent avoiding her past.

Karin Slaughter is at the peak of a career that shows no signs of abating. The statistics speak for themselves: 21 novels published in 120 countries with more than 35 million copies sold. She has switched between equally successful series and independent books and has both evolved into screen adaptation – the Grant County and Will Trent sagas for television and Pieces of her at Netflix. A perennial New York Times bestseller, Slaughter has collaborated with people like Lee Child and has been nominated for accolades including Barry, CWA Dagger, Edgar and the Macavity Awards. Her latest, July False witness, is a worthy addition to the author’s impressive canon.

Summer 1998: Young Callie retires for another night with Trevor Waleski, a loving, if somewhat annoying ten-year-old who has already reviewed his share of babysitters in the neighborhood. Called by pain and emotional turmoil, Callie medicates herself with the contents of Waleski’s bar as she makes a disturbing discovery: a hidden camera aimed at the living room couch – the same couch where Trevor’s father, Buddy, insists on infecting her (an act , which she confuses with love). When Buddy comes home and is confronted with the evidence of his misdeeds, he attacks Callie with the intent to kill. Desperate self-defense leaves Buddy mortally wounded before a beaten and bloody Callie calls his older sister, Harleigh (“Leigh”) to help clear the mess, as if it never happened.

Spring 2021: Defense attorney Leigh Collier participates in her teenage daughter’s school game when a call from one of the law firm’s partners summons her to the office for an emergency meeting. Despite being new to the practice, she has been tapped to defend a wealthy young man accused of rape and suspected of several others. Only when she meets the client, Andrew Tenant, does she realize who he really is – Trevor Waleski – and why he chose her as a replacement counsel; though he slept that fateful night, Andrew somehow knows exactly what Leigh and her sister did to his father and how they staged his death as a disappearance. Therefore, he expects an acquittal at all costs. Otherwise, Leigh and Callie’s secrets become public fodder.

Given the threat to them, Leigh is forced to involve Callie – a longtime opioid addict with a history of alienation – in her quest to get the upper hand and keep their sordid past buried. Not only would the truth ruin Leigh’s career, but further jeopardize the sanctity of her family life, which has already been separated from her husband. Callie also has ample motivation to stay in the shadows rather than the limelight. Andrew, however, proves to be a worthy adversary, who, however, has seemingly inexplicable knowledge of the sisters’ crime (s) and concealed as well as a fail-safe if they should be sly; furthermore, he has both a money-hungry private investigator and an overzealous fiance to make his bid as he prepares for the trial.

Slaughter shifts perspectives between the sisters in shifting chapters of considerable length; this allows her to develop extremely rich inner lives for Leigh and Callie to counteract the more action-oriented elements of the book (of which there are plenty). It also exemplifies each character’s continuous conflict (s) and the different manifestations of grief and guilt that each feels in the wake of their traumatic childhood, which was not only ruined by Buddy Waleski, but acts of family abuse and neglect. While such themes are timeless, the book – which incorporates Covid and its impact on addiction, mental illness and poverty (among other illnesses) – is largely current and provides a grim reflection on the dangerous and lasting impact of the pandemic.

False witness is both frightening and frighteningly genuine – and the scary thing about it may just be how good Karin Slaughter really is. Book after book, she manages to surpass herself and provide readers with sublime fiction that reflects the complexity of an uncertain world while offering moments of unlimited hope and unexpected humor. More than a criminal story or a Covid story, this is a sister story about two women whose victims are also their salvation. You may have a hard time reading it at times, but you can not put it off.

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