Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Pretty Girls.
Violent and unpredictable, Slaughter’s psycho thriller centers on the theme of secrets within the bonds of family and motivates a reunion of sorts between wealthy Claire Scott and her estranged sister, Lydia. Claire is blindsided by the gruesome death of Paul, her architect husband,
who is stabbed to death in a seedy downtown Atlanta alleyway while the two
attempt to engage in hurried, furtive (and violent) sex. Tall, dark and handsome with twinkling eyes, Paul’s death parallels the search for a missing local girl, who in turn becomes a catalyst for Claire’s realization that she has taken the luxury of her marriage and her husband for granted. Claire loved Paul and she needed him, but now realizes she was the anchor that kept him “from drifting away.”
Claire is literally burned by the trauma of her loss as she must deal with an accompanying police investigation into Paul’s nefarious activities.
She also has to confront some hard-to-face feelings of alienation regarding Lydia and the suppressed, difficult feelings that go way back to their dark youth and the vanishing of their older sister Julia years earlier. When Lydia hears of Paul’s death from the local crime blotter, she feels nothing but relief. Far from the devastated, paralyzed woman who blamed Claire and their mother, Helen, for not believing her stories about Paul, Lydia is now perhaps finally able to put the dark truths about her brother-in-law to rest. After a shattered life of substance abuse, Lydia has found new strength looking out for her teenage daughter, Dee, and security in the arms of her loving boyfriend, Rick.
Four days have passed since that awful night, and all Claire can think of is that Paul
was her physical source and gave a weight to her life, “tied her down to the world.” She recalls in a drug-fuelled, disembodied hysteria
the Snake Man who told them to turn around--she remembers his gold-plated fang
and white skin, a detail that startles Claire when she relays it to the detective at the police station.
Her first nights alone after the funeral, she wakes up with the sheets soaked in sweat
to the revelation that Paul is not there to comfort her. In these first awful days, all Claire can see are the images of her lifeless husband.
Alternating between the fractured, emotionally damaged voices of Claire and Lydia, Slaughter works hard to sustain the twists and turns.
She succeeds at times but fails in instances where Claire’s narrative becomes murky or segues into new information that sometimes seems convoluted. While the crux of the novel is the attempt between Claire and Lydia to heal their devastated relationship, what really gives the story power is the more disreputable, secret aspects of Paul’s life--a sick fetish that he has kept hidden from his wife for the last eighteen years. Throughout all the seemingly happy years of their marriage,
did Paul perhaps yearn for something more? Claire is thrust in an entirely new direction when FBI Agent Fred Nolan appears at
her house, telling her that her husband might have stumbled cross something he shouldn’t have.
From a burglary, to a kidnapping, to Paul’s murder, to Claire’s broken ties with Lydia, who suddenly cut her off years earlier, to accusations of rape (and a series of missing girls all catalogued in a charnel house of torture), to a devastated father, trying fanatically to find out his daughter’s last steps, Slaughter’s violent novel traces how a word is connected to a deed and how a deed is connected to an horrific act. Meanwhile, Claire and Lydia find themselves joining forces, reuniting in their family bonds so that they can retrace Paul’s murky past.
The story is accelerated by Claire and Lydia’s determination to finally find out what Paul was doing and why. The past is revealed in layers, and the reader isn't quite sure how all of this is going to come together. This is not a heart-pounding thriller but a more dark and plodding one with a prevailing sense of horror, a puzzling out of events that will forever change Claire’s and Lydia’s lives
as they circle back to Paul, forever the master manipulator.