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Festering divisions in the American South: Bron Sibree talks to Karin Slaughter about her latest novel The Good Daughter

Published in the Sunday Times

The Good DaughterThe Good Daughter
Karin Slaughter (HarperCollins)
****

Karin Slaughter has been in a class of her own since her debut crime novel Blindsighted, which became a surprise bestseller in 2001. It revealed a willingness to write about violence with unflinching honesty and an unparalleled ability to create strong, believable female characters.

She rocketed to international stardom, and sales of her books now exceed 35 million copies in 36 languages. From the outset, says Slaughter, “I wanted to write tough stories from a woman’s perspective because I think that women look at the world differently.”

Her latest novel The Good Daughter takes her interest in character and in social issues to a new level. A standalone work that is her 17th novel to date, The Good Daughter doesn’t so much slip the moorings of the crime genre, but realigns its ties to them in refreshing ways. It cleverly links the stories of two sisters, Charlie and Sam, and their experience of two violent, murderous events – one in the present, one in the past – in a cannily layered thriller.

Yet it is almost Victorian in its social scope and depth of characterisation. Even its size, a whopping 527 pages, is more akin to the literary traditions of a bygone era. “This is my longest book,” says Slaughter. “I always say a story needs to be as long as it needs to be.”

Already being hailed as a tour de force, it reveals Slaughter at the top of her game, and was seeded in part by the death of a former English teacher who was her mentor for many years. “I wanted to talk about the fact that even if someone dies your relationship with them doesn’t end, it continues after they’re gone. So it started with thinking about the relationship between Charlie and Sam and their mother, and how, with their mother gone, she has such influence on them.”

All her novels are anchored in the landscapes and sensibilities of the American South, but The Good Daughter probes the festering, and very real divisions between the middle class and those left behind in Pikeville, Georgia, where much of the novel is set. “That was very important to me,” says Slaughter, whose own father grew up in “the Holler”, the poorest area in Pikeville.

“He was one of nine kids and his father was always being chased and beaten up by either the clan because he wasn’t taking care of his family, or by the government because he was making moonshine. They would squat in shacks with no running water and live on squirrels. So I know how people who are trapped in that kind of poverty work their asses off and never, ever get ahead.”

Steeped in the history, lore and literature of the region, the 46-year-old author has been on mission to “honour the South” from the outset, as well as to highlight the chilling facts of violence against women. Part of the reason she feels so at home in the crime genre “is because I want to talk about social issues, and I think crime fiction’s job has always been to hold up a mirror to society. I grew up reading Flannery O ’Connor, and she used shock and violence as this fulcrum to prise the scab off the human condition, and I absolutely think when I write, that that’s my job.”

Follow @BronSibree

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