Book Review

False Witness

False Witness

  • Author: Karin Slaughter
  • Genre: Mystery Thriller
  • Publication Date: July 20, 2021
  • Publisher: William Morrow 

CONTENT WARNING: pedophilia, violence, murder, blood, rape, addiction, molestation, gore, abusive parent, mention of abortion, mention of self-harm, mention of eating disorder, trauma, child abuse, mental illness, alcoholism

Rating: 5 out of 5.

An ordinary life…

Leigh Collier has worked hard to build what looks like a normal life. She’s an up-and-coming defense attorney at a prestigious law firm in Atlanta, would do anything for her sixteen-year-old daughter, Maddy, and is managing to successfully co-parent through a pandemic after an amicable separation from her husband, Walter.

Hides a devastating past… 

But Leigh’s ordinary life masks a childhood no one should have to endure… a childhood tarnished by secrets, broken by betrayal, and ultimately destroyed by a brutal act of violence.

But now the past is catching up…

On a Sunday night at her daughter’s school play, she gets a call from one of the firm’s partners, who wants Leigh to come on board to defend a wealthy man accused of multiple rape. Though wary of the case, it becomes apparent she doesn’t have much choice if she wants to keep her job. They’re scheduled to go to trial in one week. When she meets the accused face-to-face, she realizes that it’s no coincidence that he’s specifically asked for her to represent him. She knows him. And he knows her. More to the point, he may know what happened over twenty years ago, and why Leigh has spent two decades avoiding her past.

And time is running out.

Suddenly she has a lot more to lose than this case. The only person who can help is her younger, estranged sister, Callie—the last person Leigh would ever want to drag into this after all they’ve been through. But with the life-shattering truth in danger of being revealed, she has no choice…

I’m well aware that every single time I review a Karin Slaughter book, it basically just winds up being me gushing about how amazing it was. But seriously … have you ever read one of her books? If so, I hope you understand why this happens to me every time. Naturally, as soon as I start reading, everything else that has to get done immediately gets shuffled to the back burner because how can I possibly function without getting to the end of the story? It burrows into my brain and I can’t seem to think about anything else. 

The plot twists start super early in this story. I read the first few pages and formulated an idea of the first character in my mind, but by the middle of the chapter, a sudden plot twist made me realize how horribly wrong that idea was. Of course, that set the tone for this entire story. Every assumption that I made was wrong, and eventually I just sat back and read … and read … and read. As in, reading compulsively until I finished and finally reached the end. The entire book was fast-paced and had me on the edge of my seat, wondering what was going to happen next, right up until the very end.

It’s set in present-day, and Slaughter masterfully portrays the reality of life in the times of COVID. Both personally and professionally, so we see how the pandemic has affected all areas of the characters’ lives. I couldn’t help but laugh at the point where one character cursed about forgetting their mask, because how many times has that happened to each of us? I know I’ve been in those shoes, and it just made everything feel that much more real. It also added some depth to the story, throwing in a little extra tension to everything, making it harder to ascertain expressions while certain characters were wearing masks. There’s flashbacks of past events which give some much-needed perspective to the entire story, allowing us to see how the current story has developed as well.

Leigh is such a complex character, but she was easy to empathize with. She’s a defense attorney, but there’s so much more to her than what she does. Her personality is kind and caring, and she’s a total mama bear. She is the kind of woman who clawed herself out of a rough upbringing, but is fully willing to fall back on her past to protect the people she cares about most in the world — her daughter, her husband, and her sister. But she’s clearly dealing with a lot of guilt, shame, and trauma, and it lends her the ability to compartmentalize. It’s both a gift and a curse:

“Walter’s one abiding complaints about her was the very quality that made Leigh a survivor. Her personality changed depending on who was in front of her. She was sweetheart or Mom or Collier or Counselor or baby or you fucking bitch or, very occasionally, Harleigh. Everyone got a different piece of her, but nobody got the whole.”

The other character in the story, Callie, was portrayed incredibly well. She’s been through a horribly traumatic life, and copes with it in the best way that she can with her limited means — she is a heroin addict. When I first realized this, I wasn’t expected her to be portrayed as amazingly as she was. This isn’t her only defining characteristic, and it shouldn’t be, although so many books seem to rely on addiction as an entire personality. Callie has so many different aspects to her self, just like her sister does. She’s another incredibly complex character, and I loved that her person-hood shone through above and beyond what she does. She’s also disabled, and as a disabled person myself, I thought that it was done really accurately. 

“In many ways, Leigh carried the guilt of two scarred, broken children inside of her heart every single day.”

Even the side characters were done so well. The plot was so full of twists and turns. Early on, I actually said out loud (to myself) that I didn’t like how any of the situation was playing out, but I obviously had to keep reading to find out where it was all going. And I’m glad that I kept reading. It’s a dark and brutal story, but these aren’t trust fund girls who grew up with a silver spoon in their mouth living in high society. They’re girls who grew up in the hood, hurt by people close to them, unprotected, and with nothing to fall back on except each other. And while one might have made it out, that life doesn’t always let you go, especially if you have unfinished business. Karin Slaughter is literally the master of this genre, and if you like mystery/thrillers, she’s the author for you. No one writes a gritty, dark, mystery/thriller like she can.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 18

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