When the mutilated body of a woman is discovered, the murder bears remarkable similarities to a forty year old case involving Amanda Wagner and Evelyn Mitchell who were both at the start of their careers.
As Will investigates, the case takes a surprising twist when it leads back to a children’s home where Will and Angie stayed for awhile. Will is even more intrigued when Amanda has an accident in the basement of the derelict home and orders Will to stay out of it, however he believes Amanda was searching for something and he tears the place apart only to reveal nothing. An emotional Will is already teetering on the edge, when he hears his father has been released from prison and he can’t help thinking his past is somehow connected to the recent murder.
Criminal is the sixth book in the Will Trent series and is possibly my favourite as Slaughter gets to the emotional heart of many of her characters while revealing a few secrets along the way. While the book reveals much of Will’s past, it some ways it is more about his boss, Amanda Wagner, and her best friend, Evelyn Mitchell, who also happens to be the mother of Will’s partner, Faith. The book alternates between the present and the past as the plot unfolds, and I have to say I loved the 1970s chapters because Amanda and Evelyn’s partnership reminded me so much of one of my favourite television shows, Cagney and Lacey.
When Evelyn and Amanda are thrown together, Evelyn has just returned from maternity leave after having given birth to her son and Amanda is newly promoted. The real triumph here is the way Slaughter portrays the differences in the characters of these women at different times, particularly inn regard to Amanda who is far more meek in the 1970s than I would have ever guessed. Amanda comes from a wealthy background and she is so intent on having her father’s approval, she wants to do everything by the book and is eager to please. Amanda’s meek nature is such a contrast to how she is in the present because we all know how hard she is on people, especially Will, and she appears very unlikable. Seeing what Amanda and Evelyn had to go through on a daily basis goes a long way into explaining how their respective careers developed and how Amanda underwent a personality change.
Slaughter also doesn’t pull her punches when it comes to portraying the Atlanta PD in the 1970s in all its racist and misogynistic glory. The police department operates very much on the old boys network and they are as equally derisive towards women on the job as they are about ethnic minorities. At this stage, Evelyn is much tougher than Amanda about the sexual discrimination but the inappropriate behaviour escalates when the women refuse to back away from an investigation that everyone else seems to be ignoring. When a prostitute is murdered, Evelyn and Amanda become aware than more girls have gone missing and they are determined to bring the killer to justice, however someone in the police department doesn’t want them getting too involved and their investigation is blocked at every turn. Although the investigation really doesn’t get solved, I loved spending time with Amanda and Evelyn, and wouldn’t be adverse to reading more of their adventures, however there are hints Amanda didn’t remain a detective for long before moving on to the GBI.
Moving back to the present, Will has a lot of questions about his childhood and he is positive Amanda knows more than she is telling which is not unusual. As we read about Amanda’s past, we finally begin to understand just how she is connected to Will and why she has always looked out for him, albeit from afar. While Amanda appears to be as tough as ever, there are a few chinks in her armour and they are definitely caused by her need to keep the truth from Will.
I was a little disappointed we didn’t get to witness a confrontation between Will and his father, but since Will’s intent is more murderous than anything else, it’s just as well someone gets to him first. Since Will is going through so much trauma, his relationship with Sara beings to suffer as she doubts whether he can ever put her first in his life. However, when Sara is drawn into the case and gains some insight into Will’s past, she becomes more supportive which no one would ever accuse Angie of being. Thankfully Angie is only around long enough to stick the boot into Will and leave harassing notes for Sara on her windscreen.