With her latest thriller, “False Witness,” author Karin Slaughter creates three characters we can’t stop thinking about. We meet sisters Callie and Leigh, both raised by a brutal, uncaring mother in extreme poverty. Both abused physically, sexually, and emotionally. What is different is how Callie and Leigh react to that abuse; what is the same is that the abuse ends up controlling both their lives—just with vastly different outcomes. She also explores the psychology of our brain after trauma. How do we know our memories are true? What does trauma or abuse do to our personality, our brain? And with the third character, she explores what a psychopath is capable of—in horrifying detail.
The story begins in 1998, when Callie is just 14 years old. She is babysitting, and when the father comes home, we see just what Callie has been enduring for two years. But this time there’s a different outcome. And when Callie calls her sister because she doesn’t have anyone else to turn to, Leigh knows what to do. She protects Callie.
Because of Slaughter’s mastery when unraveling the facts about Leigh and Callie’s childhood, any review of this type of book is better without including details. What is incontrovertible is that now, in 2021, Leigh is a criminal defense attorney. She has a teenage daughter, Maddy, and is separated from her husband Walter because of her drinking problem. After several years, they are still not divorced, and it’s apparent that they still love each other. We also know that Callie is a drug addict, and we understand that although she has been in rehab several times, the drug keeps winning.
The story is written in third person narrative, and Slaughter writes so that we know what Callie and Leigh are thinking every step of the way. But as the title suggests, what we don’t know is when their memories are faulty. There is much to digest in this book about the brain and how it functions. We learn that Leigh compartmentalizes her life and separates her family from work, and her sister and her childhood from the rest. In fact, her ability to compartmentalize the sexual abuse is what leads to the central tragedy in the novel. We learn that Callie’s only method of coping with the emotional and physical trauma in her childhood has been to turn to drugs, and we learn a lot about the mu opioid receptors and why addicts need higher and higher doses of the drug to be able to feel the relief from their cravings. Callie’s narrative teaches us a lot about addiction and its cycle of relapse.
Slaughter writes movingly about family and how much we’d sacrifice for those we love—or those we think we love. This story will break your heart over and over again. Ultimately, Slaughter forces us to face those who are so depraved that they are bereft of any vestige of humanity, and she makes us consider how far we would go to protect those we love from the evil that exists in the world around us.
This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.