Cop Town is a standalone novel examining the lives of female officers in the Atlanta PD in the 1970s and it makes for depressing reading considering the sheer amount of sexism and racism that feature.
Maggie has followed her older brother, Jimmy, and her uncle, Terry, into the force but the family connections don’t mean she will have an easier time of it. Maggie’s uncle has taken over as head of her family in the absence of her institutionalised father, but he subjects her to a great deal of abuse and has no respect for her as a fellow officer. Maggie has been on the force for about six years so she knows how the system works and has hardened herself to the sexual inequality but is powerless to change it.
Kate Murphy is left widowed when her husband is killed in Vietnam, so she is left with the dilemma of finding some means of supporting herself if she is to remain independent of her wealthy parents. She tries a variety of different jobs but ultimately fails at them, so joining the force is her last chance to prove herself but she is totally unprepared for the hostile environment of the Atlanta PD.
The female police officers are subjected to humiliation and abuse from their male counterparts at every opportunity which includes sexual innuendo and inappropriate physical contact. The female officers have to practically run the gauntlet just to reach their locker room unscathed and even then they have to deal with the hostility from the coloured females who are segregated. Racism runs rampant alongside the sexism and everyone is forced to contend with their own prejudices at some point or another.
Out on the mean streets, a killer is targeting cops and it is putting everyone on edge. When Jimmy barely escapes the latest attack, Maggie realises her brother is lying about the sequence of events but her questions are dismissed as Jimmy is the golden boy of the police department. Maggie is warned off the case but her curiosity is aroused even further and she finds an ally in Kate. As the women delve deeper, Maggie learns a few shocking truths about her brother’s sexuality and the evidence begins to point towards the killer as being one of their own.
Slaughter briefly touched upon the hardships faced by female officers in her third Will Trent novel, Criminal, which featured flashbacks to the early careers of Will’s boss, Amanda Wagner, and Evelyn Mitchell, the mother of his partner, Faith. Both women had to fight hard to make it in the police department, facing a lot of prejudice from their male counterparts. These episodes seem to have given Slaughter the idea to expand on this era in a standalone novel featuring two brand new characters, Maggie Lawson and Kate Murphy.
Maggie and Kate are interesting characters but they are dealing with so many personal issues they don’t really bond until near the end so there’s not much time to get a feel about how they would be as partners. The potential is definitely there though and Slaughter could easily start a new series as both try to advance their careers. The rest of the characters are a varied bunch but I felt Terry and his cohorts were a little too stereotyped as all of them were portrayed as alcoholic, racist, misogynistic clones.
The actual plot surrounding the cop killer, The Shooter, is a little weaker than I would usually expect from Slaughter and it seemed to get somewhat lost amongst her less than flattering portrayal of the police department. Weren’t there any decent cops back then? All in all, an interesting departure but not as good as her Grant county or Will Trent books.