False Witness by Karin Slaughter



Leigh Coulton has worked hard to build what looks like a normal life. She has a good job as a defence attorney, a daughter doing well in school, and even her divorce is relatively civilised – her life is just as unremarkable as she’d always hoped it would be.

Then a case lands on her desk – defending a wealthy man accused of rape. It’s the highest profile case she’s ever been given – a case which could transform her career, if she wins. But when she meets the accused, she realises that it’s no coincidence that he’s chosen her as his attorney. She knows him. And he knows her. More to the point, he knows what happened twenty years ago, and why Leigh has spent two decades running.


When Leigh is asked to defend a man accused of rape, she realises the high profile case could make her career, however when she meets Andrew Tennant she is stunned to realise she knows the man and he is blackmailing her into defending him. For Andrew Tennant used to be called Trevor Waleski and was the son of the man who Leigh and her sister, Calli, killed.

Twenty years ago, Calli was babysitting Andrew when she was assaulted by his father but she fought back and cut his femoral artery with a knife. Believing Buddy to be dead, Calli desperately calls her sister for help but when Leigh gets there, she realises Buddy is still alive and suffocates him. Calli and Leigh dispose of the body, however Leigh is astonished when her sister reveals Buddy has been abusing her over a period of time. Unable to come to terms with the events of that night, each sister is haunted by it. Leigh manages to become a lawyer and eventually gets married but her need to compartmentalise everything has pushed her husband away. Already estranged from her family, Leigh knows Andrew can destroy her life completely. But how did Andrew know what happened that night when he was sound asleep in his bed?

Now a desperate Leigh must track down her sister for help but she isn’t sure if Calli is strong enough. While Leigh was building a life for herself, Calli wasn’t so lucky as she resorted to drug abuse to dampen down the trauma of her abuse and the chronic back pain she was left with after an accident. When the sisters reconnect, they search Buddy’s old house and are horrified to discover he recorded his sessions with Calli and they realise Andrew must have seen the tapes, including the one showing Buddy’s death.

Leigh and Calli’s story is a heartbreaking one as they were raised in poverty by a neglectful mother and then abused by more than one man in their lives. While we are told Calli was the one abused multiple times by Buddy, Leigh starts to have flashbacks to an episode when Buddy touched her too but she later repressed it. Leigh also recounts how her body matured faster than other girls her age which left her open to sexual harassment. While Leigh may seem like she has kept it altogether, it soon becomes apparent she locked her pain away without really dealing with it. Calli cannot break free from her drug addiction despite numerous attempts to get clean. She knows her body has reached breaking point and a recent bout of Covid-19 has only hastened the process. Calli knows her time is running out but she is prepared to sacrifice herself to ensure Leigh and her family are safe.

There is a lot to unpack in this book as there are a lot of themes: grooming, sexual abuse, domestic violence, drug abuse and murder. And that’s before we even get into how women are mistreated and sexualised on a daily basis. On top of all that, we have the pandemic and its effect on society with Slaughter sparing no punches on how it was mishandled.