The Book Beat: Haunting the pretty girls

What would you do if you discovered the person with whom you shared 20 years of your life was only a character created by a deeply disturbed mind? 

Sinister and compelling, Karin Slaughter’s thriller “Pretty Girls” plunges readers into the twisted world of a depraved killer and the shattered lives of the family he targeted for two decades. 

Claire and Lydia are sisters haunted by the disappearance of their eldest sibling Julia. This, coupled with their father’s suicide, drove Lydia to drugs, while Claire lost herself in her college sweetheart Paul. His murder draws the sisters back together, and forces them both to question everything they have always known. 

Old fears and new enemies arise as they struggle to uncover the truth and heal wounds that have festered for half a lifetime.

Slaughter skillfully creates a story of obsession and lies, while consistently ratcheting up the tension. Claire believes the snuff-porn videos she discovers on Paul’s computer are her worst nightmare made real. She doesn’t realize how many more twisted truths will come to light, each more horrifying and dangerous than the last. 

Every revelation raises the stakes, leaving readers breathless by the highly charged conclusion: “She still didn’t know what she was going to do. Her mind was refusing to r­­­un around in the familiar circles. Mayhew. Nolan. The congressman. The gun.”

The author has also made sure that all characters, major and minor, are richly drawn. There’s fragile, dependent Claire, whose long-buried anger causes her to attack a thoughtless friend on the tennis court, “I took this tiny lunge forward and I smashed the edge of the racket into the side of her knee.”

Strong, capable Lydia whose emptiness was first fed by drugs and now by food, “She liked potato chips. She loved bread. She lived for a good cupcake.”

And gruff, ex-druggie Rick who strokes Lydia’s hair and tells her, “This head is full of thoughts that surprise me and enlighten me and make me laugh.” 

Even FBI agent Fred Nolan is complex: an offensive and crude man with a soft spot for Claire.

The book’s only flaw is the inclusion of diary pages from the women’s father at various intervals. While it gives a heartbreaking look at the grief a parent faces with the unexplained loss of a child, it slows down the momentum and seems to be a bit out of place.

Nevertheless, Slaughter has written a gritty and engrossing tale, dark and suspenseful.

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