Slaughter’s latest break from the punishing travails of Dr. Sara Linton and Will Trent (The Kept Woman, 2016, etc.) uses a school shooting to reunite two sisters who’ve had compelling reasons for avoiding each other in the years since their own childhood horrors.
Twenty-eight years ago, two masked men broke into attorney Rusty Quinn’s Georgia home looking for the man of the house, the kind of lawyer who gives lawyers a bad name. In Rusty’s absence, things went south instantly, leaving Gamma Quinn dead, her daughter Samantha shot in the head and buried alive, and her daughter Charlotte fleeing in terror. Sam somehow survived and rose above her brain damage to become a successful New York patent attorney; Charlie remained in Pikeville, joined the criminal defense bar, and married ADA Ben Bernard. But she and Ben have separated; she’s taken solace in some quick sex with a stranger in a parking lot; and when she goes to the middle school where her one-night stand works as a history teacher to pick up the cellphone she left behind, she walks into the middle of a shooting that brings back all her own trauma. Goth girl Kelly Wilson admits she shot and killed Douglas Pinkman, the school principal, and 8-year-old Lucy Alexander, but Rusty, whose inbox is already overflowing with hate mail provoked by all the lowlifes he’s defended, is determined to serve as her attorney, with Sam as a most unlikely second chair. In addition to the multilayered conflicts among the Quinns and everyone else in town, Sam, who urged her sister to flee their childhood nightmare, and Charlie, who’s had to live with fleeing ever since, will have to deal with memories that make it hard for them to sit in the same room.
It’s hard to think of any writer since Flannery O’Connor, referenced at several key moments here, who’s succeeded as consistently as Slaughter at using horrific violence to evoke pity and terror. Whether she’s extending her franchise or creating stand-alones like this, she really does make your hair stand on end.