False Witness by Karin Slaughter: A Heart-Wrenching Dissection of Child Exploitation, Dark Secrets, & Lifelong Trauma in Pandemic-era America – Book Review

False Witness by Karin Slaughter is a stand-alone psychological thriller novel that follows two sisters, Leigh and Callie. After a horrifying night when they were teenagers, they grew apart and became estranged. Now, Leigh has made a life for herself as an up-and-rising criminal defence attorney. When the big boss associate at her firm assigns her to defend a man that’s accused of brutal rape crimes, little does Leigh know that her entire past is about to rise up out of the darkness and bitch slap her into Hell. The only way to confront the nightmare is to reach out to the one person she’s been trying to protect, and the one person she can’t look in the eyes anymore: her little sister, Callie.

The one thing that Slaughter’s novels shall never disappoint in is the savagery of the crimes committed and their allegorical nature of dissecting bigger societal issues. As the first novel I’ve encountered that’s set smack dab in the middle of the pandemic, there were a lot of very interesting expositions in False Witness that helped to keep me thoroughly engaged from start to finish. Between those contemplative commentaries, the intense tight-knit cat-and-mouse hunt, and the dysfunctional family dynamics of people living with unfathomably hefty burdens of guilt, it’s safe to say that False Witness is one of Slaughter’s best thrillers yet.

Like the author’s previous works, this book doesn’t shy away from displaying the grotesque depravity that humans are capable of partaking in, and how the individuals that enjoy such sadistic pleasures truly can be anyone at all. Whether they are a school principal, a coach to a kid’s sporting team, a police officer, a judge, and many others. Individuals that are tasked with the responsibilities of protecting our families and children are revealed to be nothing more than monsters in horrible self-righteous disguises. What truly makes these truths even more intriguing in False Witness is that the story takes place during the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic, so the masks that people wear to shield themselves from ethical obligations are at-times terrifying and tangibly literal. The duality of right and wrong, human and hellhound, devastatingly palpable that it sucker punches down to the core.

A few of the plethora of themes and issues that are explored include, but aren’t limited to, child exploitation and the lifelong traumatic impact that it entails; how our brains re-write our own histories to protect ourselves and cope from the absolute worst kind of suffering imaginable; the societal treatment of human beings who are victims of addiction and homelessness, and how it can influence their self-perception (and thus hinders their abilities to seek help and stay clean); the contribution our “protectors” make to a civilisation that thrives off the sadistic manipulation of others; and the selfishness of “practising a constitutional right” with the total and disgusting disregard (and sometimes even intent to cause harm) for others around us.

While I appreciated the discussion on these subjects, and a few more, I wish that it didn’t take up so much of the book, as at certain points it created a small, displaced essence to some of the chapters, and my ADHD brain began to check out for brief periods. In that sense, the novel could’ve been an entire fifty to seventy-five pages shorter and it wouldn’t have impacted it’s overall quality or narrative in any negative ways.

I enjoyed reading about the discord that took root between Leigh and Callie. The level of guilts that they shared individually as well as a single unit were heartbreakingly valid yet everlasting with what ifs. If they would have been more upfront about their feelings rather than running away in shame, they may have salvaged a relationship that could’ve made them so much stronger. This is a big message because it’s something that so many people struggle with, to confront our issues or push them away until we can’t hide from it anymore. I’m normally not a fan of stories that use non-communication and misunderstandings as a source of conflict, but it worked so exceptionally well in False Witness, particularly given the type of chase and circumstances the ladies were faced with, I couldn’t help but appreciate its presence here.

The cat-and-mouse hunt itself was crafted excellently. It’s fuelled with tension and this sense of reluctance to know what’s going to happen next for fear of things going significantly downhill into tragedy, but it’s also impossible to not root for the sisters and the hope of them surviving and defeating their demons is what pushed me forward through the pages. If there is any complaint that I could pinpoint with this aspect, however, it would be its predictability. Once you reach a very specific plot point, everything else that is to come becomes supremely easy to identify, more so if you’re already familiar with Slaughter’s writing style. This also influences the finale in a negative way by making it extremely anticlimactic.

The build-up to the climax of everything is inevitable given how the story progresses, but that build-up sort of fizzles out far too quickly and left me unsatisfied. Even so, given all the graphic things that happen between the start and the finale, I’m not surprised that the ending took a more emotionally lenient route, it was merely disappointing in the confines of the other shite that had happened up until then.

Overall, I would RECOMMEND False Witness to readers of psychological thrillers that have a strong constitution when it comes to sexual violence and drug use, and I would actually recommend this to folx that haven’t yet read any of Slaughter’s previous novels. Comparatively, it’s actually not as twisted and fucked-up as her other books, which is saying a lot… A full list of content warnings are shared below, in case if you’d like to make sure this will be a good fit for your tastes or not.

Publication Date: July 2021
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Page Count: 512
Content Warnings: Graphic sexual violence including sexual battery, forced sodomy, and sexual exploitation and rape of a child (on-page). Graphic violence and deaths. Strong domestic violence and child abuse. Strong language. Graphic descriptions of drugs and alcohol abuse including death from overdose. Moderate descriptions of homelessness and drug rehabilitation. Child abandonment. Strong sexual content. Strong sexism and misogyny. Suicide ideation and discussion of past suicide of loved ones. Brief mention of animal death. Brief mention of infidelity. Brief mention of dementia.
GoodReads: False Witness: A Novel by Karin Slaughter
Availability: In-print; Hardback, paperback, eBook, and audiobook formats available.

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