Like most Anglo-Saxon surnames, Slaughter probably derives from an ancestor’s occupation: a butcher or someone else who got his hands bloody for a living.
So Karin Slaughter’s success as a crime writer seems like the uncanny outcome of some long-ago, genealogical foreshadowing, even though it would be too obvious a plot development for any of her unpredictable page-turners. Her bestselling novels, all set in Georgia, present some of the most indelible and visceral—in every sense of that word—scenes in the suspense canon, with victims flayed, tortured, and slain in theatrical Grand Guignol set pieces of extravagant but meticulous violence. Their fictive trace evidence would glow if sprayed with luminol.
Since publishing Blindsighted in 2001, Slaughter has written eleven more novels, totaling more than 30 million books in print, translated into thirty-two languages. The seven-figure advances for these consistent New York Times bestsellers place her among the highest-paid writers in the world, and her international sales figures for the past decade rank in the top hundred, along with those of William Shakespeare and J.K. Rowling. Two production companies, Entertainment One and Piller/Segan/Shepherd, partners on the Syfy series Haven, have teamed up to acquire the television rights to her early Grant County series revolving around a pediatrician sleuth in a small town, and they enlisted Slaughter to cowrite a pilot script for the show, which will be filmed in Georgia. It is expected to air later this year or in 2013. Another entertainment group in Europe—where her books often debut at number one—is negotiating for a project based on the Will Trent series, which stars an extraordinarily perceptive, dyslexic agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
The author’s evocative name itself has become an enterprise, with T-shirts, mugs, pet gear, and—a product that reveals her impish streak more than anything else—a plush teddy bear in a shirt emblazoned with “I Got Slaughtered” in a red, spattered typeface.
“Just for fun,” she says.
A blonde with a piercing, almost baleful gaze in photographs—like a haunted-house portrait, her blue eyes seem to follow you around the room from her book covers—Slaughter, forty-one, packs auditoriums at festivals, where she turns on the peachy charm for her cultish followers, often shaking her head during a Q&A and exclaiming, “It’s fiction, y’all!” Scary on the page but funny on the stage, she is credited with coining the term investigoogling.
“As big as she is in America, Karin is an even bigger rock star in Europe, where writers are revered and celebrated by so many avid readers,” says her longtime agent, Victoria Sanders, noting that Slaughter has sold 4 million books in Holland, a number that is one-quarter of that country’s population. “Part of it, too, is her presence, her warmth, her wit. Walking around with her at a book festival recently in Frankfurt, Germany, was like traveling with Elvis, with these gaggles of young girls spotting her and then screaming and jumping up and down and begging for her to autograph this and that. Seriously, it was wild.”
Slaughter is the only author to have been honored four times by Amsterdam’s Crimezone Thriller Awards, which recognize the international “popular author of the moment,” and she has received the Prix des Lecteurs, France’s prestigious literary prize, for Faithless.
Slaughter, much like Coca-Cola, enjoys global brand recognition but unmistakable, unshakable Georgia roots. While she relishes the adventure of book tours, she also can’t wait to get home and eat barbecue at Fat Matt’s, and she has no desire to live anywhere other than Atlanta. The author always has brought a detailed sense of place and local color to her writing. Her next book, Criminal, to be released in July by Delacorte Press, puts the city in sharper historical focus, flashing back and forth between the present day and the seedier, shaggier, unreconstructed boomtown of the 1970s to examine the embattled roles of the first women in law enforcement. “Kitty [Kathryn] Stockett did such a good job exploring racism in The Help that I wanted to do something similar about sexism,” says Slaughter, who named a missing hooker “Kitty” in Criminal to honor her famous friend. “There’s sort of a Cagney & Lacey feel to it.”
Slaughter immersed herself in the archives of the Atlanta History Center, scoured old photos of buildings, and read local and national magazines to get the era’s slang and “vibe” right. She also spent time with some seen-it-all, veteran policewomen and came away with a checklist of outrages—and triumphs—that are braided into the plot about a serial killer.
“At that time, a woman couldn’t get a car loan or a credit card without a man cosigning, and there had to be semen in a woman’s underwear to bring a rape charge,” she says. “Women working on the force were openly called ‘slits’ to their faces, and the men would go on ‘trim runs’ for sex. These women had their breasts grabbed by coworkers, and one was almost raped by her boss. These women had to take a polygraph, and the first question was: ‘Are you a virgin?’ Then: ‘How many sex partners have you had?’ And: ‘Do you want this job just to have sex with police officers?’ One woman shot back, ‘Depends on the officer.’ All of this was in their workplace—then they had to go out and face the streets.”