With “Girl, Forgotten,” author Karin Slaughter pens a worthy sequel to “Pieces of Her,” which became a huge hit as a Netflix series. My slight problem with “Pieces of Her” was that main character Andrea was, at times, an incompetent, insecure, fumbling fool. Well now, two years after the events in the first book, Andrea has matured and grown into a formidable character whose insecurities have taken second place to her intelligence and a bit more confidence. She has learned to control her emotions, mostly, and is quite able to start her first assignment as a United States Marshal.
While knowledge of the events in the first book will help readers understand the backstory and shed light on Andy’s somewhat strained relationship with her mother, this well written, gripping thriller definitely stands alone. It’s told in two timelines. The title girl who was forgotten is Emily Vaughn, who was viciously attacked in 1982, the night of her high school’s prom. She died from her injuries, and the murderer was never found or brought to justice. She did survive long enough to give birth to a daughter, whom her parents raised. Emily’s mother was in the process of being appointed by a conservative President Reagan to a federal judgeship, and months earlier, when Emily revealed that she was pregnant, her parents didn’t know what to do. The fear was that her mother’s career and lifetime judicial appointment would be jeopardized by this situation.
The story is also told in the present, as Andy is assigned to protect Judge Vaughn because of credible threats against her. It’s an unusual situation because Andy just graduated from the academy that trains Marshals, and they usually don’t immediately get posted on assignment. But there are other machinations at work, including her wealthy and politically connected uncle who wants to ensure that Andy’s father, in prison, is never released. Andy’s father grew up in the small beach town where the judge and her family are spending the court recess, so it’s a perfect assignment and a perfect way for Andy to investigate that long ago murder to find her father’s connection to it.
One of the ways that this book differs from “Pieces of Her” is that in this novel, we fall completely in love with several characters. Andy has become someone we like and want to succeed. She’s a woman on a mission, and we respect her. Emily Vaughn, the victim who never received justice, is also someone who is easy to love because of her innate kindness and sweetness of soul. The “friends” in her clique, the ones she considers her best friends, ridicule her for her collection of broken toys—kids who are ostracized or who aren’t cool and whom Emily befriends. The other three in her clique are cruel and follow the lead of Clay, a charismatic and handsome leader, whom they’ve grown up with.
As if those characters weren’t plenty to deal with, there is Dean Wexler, the teacher from Emily’s high school, whose smarmy behavior has morphed, twenty years later, as he runs a farm. But his farm—which has made him extremely wealthy—is also a place where skeletal women, dressed in long yellow dresses and with metal bands affixed permanently to their ankles, are kept. They are “volunteers” but they are definitely brainwashed, and his complete disregard for the lives of the women, who are clearly abused and equally clearly part of his cult, make him yet another suspect in Emily’s decades-old murder.
Andy’s partner, Leonard “Catfish” Bible, is another character who is brilliantly conceived. He is whip smart but has a slow Southern drawl and speaks in riddles. His relationship with the other characters in the novel adds another layer to the story that, combined with the plot, the dialogue, the setting, and the carefully created characters, all serve to immerse us fully in the action. We literally keep reading, page after page, to find out who murdered Emily and which of the many relatively noxious suspects is guilty. The whole story is a masterpiece of mystery, and Slaughter’s skill as a writer has never shone as brightly as with this novel. I am crossing my fingers that there will be more of Andy to come.
Please note: This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.