Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Pretty Girls - Karin Slaughter

Warning: Karin Slaughter’s 2015 crime thriller Pretty Girls is not for readers who have weak stomachs or especially vivid imaginations. In fact, this one, with its graphic depictions of bondage and torture, makes the run of the mill Stephen King horror novel read like something from the pen of Jane Austen. 

Two decades ago, three sisters, the eldest of them nineteen years old, were part of a close-knit Southern family. Julia was a college freshman living away from home for the first time in her life, and her younger sisters, Lydia and Claire, were still at home with their parents. The girls were growing up, and although their parents were not thrilled about that prospect, their future seemed to be a bright one. But everything changed on the night that Julia disappeared while making the short walk back to her dormitory room from a local bar. Julia was never found or heard from again, and her family came apart at the seams. Lydia and Claire barely acknowledge the existence of the other now and have not spoken for at least twenty years. It is like Julia’s abductor killed the whole family – because he did.

Karin Slaughter
Today, Lydia is a single parent raising a sixteen-year-old daughter of her own and dating the ex-con who lives next door. Claire, on the other hand, is married to a multi-millionaire architect and living the good life in Atlanta. Their worlds and their lives could not be more different. But worlds have a way of colliding, and theirs are about to do exactly that. It is only after Claire suffers a tragedy of her own that she discovers that the life she has been living for the last two decades has been nothing but an illusion. Everywhere she looks, she learns more of the shocking truth – and when the cops and the FBI start threatening her, Claire realizes she can trust no one with what she has learned; she is on her own. 

And then Lydia knocks on Claire’s front door and refuses to leave. 

This is the point in the book where squeamish readers may start second-guessing their desire to continue reading Pretty Girls. Claire soon discovers exactly what happened to her sister all those years ago, and that it also happened to a lot of other girls who looked a whole lot like Julia. What Julia suffered is disturbing on its face, but the graphic details of torture, bondage, and humiliation described by Slaughter bring Pretty Girls to a level of horror that few thrillers of this type even attempt – and this is a long book. Just be warned. 

While I can admire Slaughter’s writing and story-telling skills, I don’t feel right in saying that I “enjoyed” this one or that it “entertained” me. If it had not been an audiobook that I started while on a road trip (and the audio reader makes the torture scenes especially real), I’m not sure that I would have even finished it. But it was one hell of a ride, and I won’t soon forget it – hard as I may try to do so.


  1. Yeah, I'm going to have to skip this one. Sounds too violent and disturbing to me. Thanks for the content warning!

    1. I certainly found it that way, Susan, and I have a strong stomach when it comes to this kind of thing. This one bordered on gratuitous detail to me.

  2. I really like suspense/thrillers, but I do have a hard time reading about torture and bondage. Especially when the author gets really graphic. I think I might pass on this one, too.

    1. This one is so graphic that (and I'm showing my own prejudice here, I suppose) I had a hard time believing it was written by a woman. I don't know Slaughter's work well at all, so I have no idea if this is typical of her novels or not.