Andrea Oliver is celebrating her birthday over lunch with her mother, Laura when they ﬁnd themselves in the middle of a deadly shooting. Terriﬁed, Andy is frozen. But Laura – calm, cool and collected – jumps into action and stops the killer in his tracks. No one can understand how a quiet, middle-aged speech pathologist could possibly have the knowledge or ability to stop a shooter on the rampage. The fallout and widespread media coverage quickly unravel the carefully curated life Laura has built for herself and her daughter. And Andy discovers that the person who she thought she knew best in the world is a total stranger. The bigger problem though is that someone wants them both dead. As two intersecting timelines – 1986 and the present – gradually converge, Pieces of Her begs the question: can you ever truly escape your past?
For years, even while she’d loved him, part of her had hated him in that childish way that you hate something you can’t control. He was headstrong and stupid, and handsome, which gave him cover for a hell of a lot of the mistakes he continually made—the same mistakes, over and over again, because why try new ones when the old ones worked so well in his favor?
He was charming, too. That was the problem. He would charm her. He would make her furious. Then he would charm her back again so that she did not know if he was the snake or she was the snake and he was the handler.
So he sailed along on his charm, and his fury, and he hurt people, and he found new things that interested him more, and the old things were left broken in his wake.
Then, quite suddenly, his charm had stopped working. A trolley car off the tracks. A train without a conductor. The mistakes could not be forgiven, and eventually, the second same mistake would not be overlooked, and the third same mistake had dire consequences that had ended with a life being taken, a death sentence being passed, then—almost—resulted in the loss of another life, her life.
How could she still love someone who had tried to destroy her?
When she had been with him—and she was decidedly with him during his long fall from grace—they had raged against the system: The group homes. The emergency departments. The loony bin. The mental hospital. The squalor. The staff who neglected their patients. The orderlies who ratcheted tight the straight jackets. The nurses who looked the other way. The doctors who doled out the pills. The urine on the floor. The faeces on the walls. The inmates, the fellow prisoners, taunting, wanting, beating, biting.
The spark of rage, not the injustice, was what had excited him the most. The novelty of a new cause. The chance to annihilate. The dangerous game. The threat of violence. The promise of fame. Their names in lights. Their righteous deeds on the tongues of schoolchildren who were taught the lessons of change.
A penny, a nickel, a dime, a quarter, a dollar bill . . .
What she had kept hidden, the one sin that she could never confess to, was that she had ignited that first spark.
She had always believed—vehemently, with great conviction— that the only way to change the world was to destroy it.
“Andrea,” her mother said. Then, in concession to a request made roughly one thousand times before, “Andy.”
“Let me speak, darling.” Laura paused. “Please.”
Andy nodded, preparing for a long-awaited lecture. She was officially thirty-one years old today. Her life was stagnating. She had to start making decisions rather than having life make decisions for her.
Laura said, “This is my fault.”
Andy felt her chapped lips peel apart in surprise. “What’s your fault?”
“You’re being here. Trapped here.”
Andy held out her arms, indicating the restaurant. “At the Rise-n-Dine?”
Her mother’s eyes traveled the distance from the top of Andy’s head to her hands, which fluttered nervously back to the table. Dirty brown hair thrown into a careless ponytail. Dark circles under her tired eyes. Nails bitten down to the quick. The bones of her wrists like the promontory of a ship. Her skin, normally pale, had taken on the pallor of hot dog water.
The catalog of flaws didn’t even include her work outfit. The navy-blue uniform hung off Andy like a paper sack. The stitched silver badge on her breast pocket was stiff, the Belle Isle palm tree logo surrounded by the words police dispatch division. Like a police officer, but not actually. Like an adult, but not really. Five nights a week, Andy sat in a dark, dank room with four other women answering 911 calls, running license plate and driver’s license checks, and assigning case numbers. Then, around six in the morning, she slinked back to her mother’s house and spent the majority of what should’ve been her waking hours asleep.
Laura said, “I never should have let you come back here.”
Andy pressed together her lips. She stared down at the last bits of yellow eggs on her plate.
“My sweet girl.” Laura reached across the table for her hand, waited for her to look up. “I pulled you away from your life. I was scared, and I was selfish.” Tears rimmed her mother’s eyes. “I shouldn’t have needed you so much. I shouldn’t have asked for so much.”
Andy shook her head. She looked back down at her plate. “Darling.”
Andy kept shaking her head because the alternative was to speak, and if she spoke, she would have to tell the truth.
Her mother had not asked her to do anything.
Three years ago, Andy had been walking to her shitty Lower East Side fourth-floor walk-up, dreading the thought of another night in the one-bedroom hovel she shared with three other girls, none of whom she particularly liked, all of whom were younger, prettier and more accomplished when Laura had called. “Breast cancer,” Laura had said, not whispering or hedging but coming straight out with it in her usual calm way. “Stage three. The surgeon will remove the tumor, then while I’m under,
he’ll biopsy the lymph nodes to evaluate—”
Laura had said more, detailing what was to come with a degree of detached, scientific specificity that was lost on Andy, whose language-processing skills had momentarily evaporated. She had heard the word “breast” more than “cancer,” and thought instantly of her mother’s generous bosom. Tucked beneath her modest one-piece swimsuit at the beach. Peeking over the neckline of her Regency dress for Andy’s Netherfield- themed sixteenth birthday party. Strapped under the padded cups and gouging underwires of her LadyComfort Bras as she sat on the couch in her office and worked with her speech therapy patients.
Laura Oliver was not a bombshell, but she had always been what men called very well put together. Or maybe it was women who called it that, probably back in the last century. Laura wasn’t the type for heavy make-up and pearls, but she never left the house without her short gray hair neatly styled, her linen pants crisply starched, her underwear clean and still elasticized.
Andy barely made it out of the apartment most days. She was constantly having to double back for something she had forgotten like her phone or her ID badge for work or, one time, her sneakers because she’d walked out of the building wearing her bedroom slippers.
Whenever people in New York asked Andy what her mother was like, she always thought of something Laura had said about her own mother: She always knew where all the tops were to her Tupperware.
Andy couldn’t be bothered to close a Ziploc bag.
On the phone, eight hundred miles away, Laura’s stuttered intake of breath was the only sign that this was difficult for her. “Andrea?”
Andy’s ears, buzzing with New York sounds, had zeroed back in on her mother’s voice.
Andy tried to grunt. She could not make the noise. This was shock. This was fear. This was unfettered terror because the world had suddenly stopped spinning and everything—the failures, the disappointments, the horror of Andy’s New York existence for the last six years—receded like the drawback wave of a tsunami. Things that should’ve never been uncovered were suddenly out in the open.
Her mother had cancer. She could be dying.
She could die.
Laura had said, “So, there’s chemo, which will by all accounts be very difficult.” She was used to filling Andy’s protracted silences, had learned long ago that confronting her on them was more likely to end up in a fight than a resumption of civil conversation. “Then I’ll take a pill every day, and that’s that. The five-year survival rate is over seventy percent, so there’s not a lot to worry about except for getting through it.” A pause for breath, or maybe in hopes that Andy was ready to speak. “It’s very treatable, darling. I don’t want you to worry. Just stay where you are. There’s nothing you can do.”
A car horn had blared. Andy had looked up. She was standing statue-like in the middle of a crosswalk. She struggled to move. The phone was hot against her ear. It was past midnight. Sweat rolled down her back and leached from her armpits like melted butter. She could hear the canned laughter of a sitcom, bottles clinking, and an anonymous piercing scream for help, the likes of which she had learned to tune out her first month living in the city.
Too much silence on her end of the phone. Finally, her mother had prompted, “Andrea?”
Andy had opened her mouth without considering what words should come out.
“Darling?” her mother had said, still patient, still generously nice in the way that her mother was to everyone she met. “I can hear the street noises, otherwise I’d think we’d lost the connection.” She paused again. “Andrea, I really need you to acknowledge what I’m telling you. It’s important.”
Her mouth was still hanging open. The sewer smell that was endemic to her neighborhood had stuck to the back of her nasal passages like a piece of overcooked spaghetti slapped onto a kitchen cabinet. Another car horn blared. Another woman screamed for help. Another ball of sweat rolled down Andy’s back and pooled in the waistband of her underwear. The elastic was torn where her thumb went when she pulled them down.
Andy still could not recall how she’d managed to force herself out of her stupor, but she remembered the words she had finally said to her mother: “I’m coming home.”
Andrea is still looking for her role in life, easily influenced she takes the road of least resistance. Not the most likeable of characters until she is the victim of a violent shooting attack, which shows a different side to her mother and leads Andrea(Andy) on a life-endangering journey of discovery. Laura is well-respected in her small community, but she has a secret past, one she has hidden from her daughter and now threatens their lives.
The beginning is atmospheric and shocking, as is Laura’s reaction to the danger in the mall. The story reveals Laura’s story in 1986 as her daughter Andy discovers it in the present day in the aftermath of the mall incident. The detailed plot portrays the late eighties ethos and prejudices accurately. Urban terrorism is a predominant theme, and again this is realistic and reminiscent of actual events in the late 1970s and1980s.
The mother-daughter dynamic is the foundation of this crime thriller, and it gives the story depth and poignancy that would otherwise be missing. Andy finds out she knows little about her mother but their bond is strong, finding out about her mother’s past frees Andy to be herself and her character development is extensive. She is far more empathic and likeable by the story’s end.
The action is intense and realistic, and necessarily horrific, the language is often crude, but again this adds to the plot’s authenticity. The vivid descriptions make it easy to visualise the action and the characters although sometimes difficult to understand are complex and believable.
A crime thriller with intrinsic suspense and an absorbing family mystery.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Fiction – Harper Collins UK via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Karin Slaughter has sold over 35 million books, making her one of the most popular crime writers today. She is the author of more than a dozen novels, including the Will Trent and Grant County series and the instant New York Times bestsellers Cop Town and Pretty Girls. Her previous novel, The Good Daughter, was a no.1 Sunday Times bestseller in paperback. She is passionate, no-nonsense, provocative, and is one of suspense ﬁction’s most articulate ambassadors. Her Will Trent Series, Grant County Series, and stand-alone novel Cop Town are all in development for ﬁlm & television. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Author, blogger and book reviewer.
I am the author of 'The Dragon Legacy' series and 'The Dangerous Gift'.
Animal welfare supporter. Loves reading, writing, countryside walks, cookery and gardening,
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