Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Pretty Girls.
The novel begins with a shocking scenario, a romantic dinner for two shattered by a robbery/murder. In the aftermath of her husband’s murder in a downtown Atlanta alley, Claire Scott is going through the motions of a grieving widow. Claire has clung to Paul, made a painful choice that drove a wedge through the heart of her family; Claire’s sister, Lydia,
is now long estranged from the rest. The first crippling blow: the disappearance of their older sister, Julia, shattering their parents’ marriage, Helen and Sam divorcing, Sam obsessed with finding his lost daughter. With Paul, Claire has found security, protection and love--even her mother chooses the shelter of his protection. Rebellious Lydia acts out her rage and pain in drugs and self-destructive choices. Now, without Paul, Claire is desperately trying to sort through the details of their life, only to learn that her happy marriage
was riddled with secrets and lies: “This is what I know I am. A fool.”
Julia disappeared over two decades ago, the chasm between Claire and Lydia entrenched in anger and resentment. Sober for many years, Lydia has survived the breach, has a teenage daughter, Dee, even found a loving relationship with a neighbor. Learning of Paul’s murder, she is not inclined to comfort Claire, but when Lydia stumbles across her younger sister in the graveyard and intuits her desperation, she will not turn away. The two make a truce of sorts; meanwhile, Claire is assailed by unexpected events, including an attempted robbery of her home.
Neither woman trusts the police after their experience with Julia’s disappearance, authorities labeling it a runaway. Claire is forced to examine not only the circumstances the night of the murder but the state of her marriage. The search for information leads to unsettling suspicions that Paul has hidden dark secrets behind the façade of the ideal marriage.
Of necessity, the sisters join forces, balancing on the edge of a fractured relationship, unsure how to bridge their past.
Whatever peace they find requires brutal honesty and the courage of both to forgive: “Claire made a choice and Lydia was the one to pay for it.” Suspicious of the local police and FBI Agent Fred Nolan, who has inserted himself into the case, the women keep their own counsel, following a disturbing trail littered with horrifying discoveries, unaware of the danger shadowing them. With her usual legerdemain, Slaughter builds a tidy box of circumstances around her protagonists-in-peril, tearing it apart with a provocative plot that reveals the ugly underbelly of a supposedly admirable life, the faces people wear in public vs. their true proclivities. In spite of the entrenched resistance of the past years, relying only on one another, Claire and Lydia unite in purpose: expose the truth.
The recent disappearance of another young woman is not only a reminder of Julia’s fate but adds emotional texture to the chapters of a grieving father’s perspective since his daughter’s disappearance, details of his efforts to pressure the police to take the disappearance seriously and the sad thoughts of a father who loses his daughter. Sam’s diary speaks to a family in distress: girls who have lost a sister, then each other, a marriage broken by a mother’s need for closure and her husband’s inability to continue on with life. Sam’s reflections are in stark contrast to the unfolding drama where brutality is a reality, even death. While the violent scenes are often too well-rendered for comfort, the actions of the protagonists on a mission to expose the past and claim the future outweigh the horrors they experience. The utter unpredictability of the plot gives an extra edge to a fast-paced, nerve-wracking thriller.