New thriller joins wave of ‘Girls’ books gone wild

Author Karin Slaughter. (Photo: Jenni Girtman)

Author Karin Slaughter. (Photo: Jenni Girtman)


“Pretty Girls”

by Karin Slaughter

William Morrow/HarperCollins, 394 pages



Karin Slaughter is to appear this week at two metro locations:

• 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13

Gwinnett Public Library event at Garden Plaza

230 Collins Industrial Way, Lawrenceville

Books sold by Barnes & Noble


• 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15

Decatur Library, 215 Sycamore St., Decatur

Books sold by A Capella Books

404-370-3070, ext. 2285

“Girls” — not to be confused with ladies or women, mind you — are leading the pack in popular fiction these days.

Recent best-sellers have seen plenty of them: “Gone Girl,” “The Girl on the Train,” “Luckiest Girl Alive.” Before them came Stieg Larsson’s posthumously published Millennium trilogy featuring a most unusual gal: intense punk hacker Lisbeth Salander, or “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Thanks to a newly enlisted author, Lisbeth’s climbing the charts all over again in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web.”

When writing her new psychological thriller, Atlanta’s Karin Slaughter had in mind “The Truth About Pretty Girls” for a title. But her publisher slashed it to “Pretty Girls.”

But, hey, says Slaughter, “I’d be an idiot not to listen to my publisher. That’s their job. Who am I to tell them what works as a title?”

As for “Girl” trending on book jackets, Slaughter thinks it “sends a message that it’s more approachable. The word ‘women’ could be off-putting, especially to men, maybe.”

Slaughter’s fans know who they are. Her stuff is not for the squeamish nor for anyone who plays it safe. She dares to put it out there: all the blood and gore, the grisly, unspeakable details — even when describing rape, mutilation, murder.

“Look at history,” she says. “ ‘Beowulf’ was pretty gruesome,” not to mention Homer’s “The Odyssey.”

Set in Atlanta and nearby Athens, “Pretty Girls” involves a long string of horrific crimes against teenaged girls. A cache of brutally graphic videos has been discovered on a dead man’s computer; the footage shows young women chained to concrete walls, being maimed with such things as machetes while being repeatedly raped.

Hard to take? How, and why, does Slaughter do it?

“I think it’s the same reason that my readers want to read it,” says the author who grew up in Jonesboro and has more than 35 million books in print. “I want to know why people do these things. What makes someone break that social contract?”

“Pretty Girls” is Slaughter’s 15th book and her second standalone thriller after last year’s hit, “Cop Town.” She’s best known for two crime series: her Will Trent books concern the cases of an Atlanta special agent, and her Grant County series is set around the fictional town of Heartsdale, Ga.

“I’ve always written from the perspective of the investigators and this time I wanted to write from the perspective of family members,” says Slaughter, 44, whose last name is real. “The center of this story personally terrifies me. That someone can go for a walk and just disappear.”

The true crimes that hit her hardest are those in which family members still don’t know what happened. “That’s what I wanted to research and explore with this book. It seems to me that the not knowing is worse than the knowing. How do you go on with your life?”

“Pretty Girls” involves three sisters. The eldest, Julia, disappeared more than 20 years ago, an event that unraveled the family and led to the estrangement of sisters Claire and Lydia. Slaughter brings them back together in “Pretty Girls,” but their reunion is fraught with bad memories, pain, guilt, anger and resentment. Meanwhile, another local girl has disappeared.

The fast-paced and detailed story unfolds from both Claire’s and Lydia’s point of view. Slaughter also inserts letters that their tormented father, Sam, wrote to Julia after she disappeared. These letters give readers a break from the throat-gripping evils of the main narrative. Slaughter’s intent?

“Absolutely. It’s important to have those little breathers. I also wanted him to be the heart of the book.” Sam’s letters were also a handy way for her to provide backstory.

The youngest of three sisters raised in Jonesboro, Slaughter figures she got her love of storytelling from her dad, Howard. A car salesman, he loved to tell his daughters “outrageous” stories on road trips.

The three would be in the back seat, Karin usually smashed in the middle. “He would tell us stories that went on for miles and miles. I think it was his best way to keep us from killing each other.” His stories were “always about someone getting murdered or getting into trouble, and they were also hilarious because he loved to embellish.”

Nowadays, when Slaughter is at her North Georgia cabin for a binge-writing session, her dad sometimes delivers food. It’s a nice change from her Lean Cuisines. “He won’t even knock, he doesn’t want to interrupt me,” she says. “He’ll just leave it at the door – maybe some soup, or cake.”

Slaughter calls it her “time-to-make-the-doughnuts time” when up there in the boonies. She works 12-16 hours a day.

“I like writing in these really intense spurts. I think it shows in the story. It gives it some drive. I don’t go to bed until I can’t write another word.”