COP TOWN. By Karin Slaughter. Delacorte Press. 416 pages. $27.

Karin Slaughter wraps an intense thriller around a legacy of sexism, race relations and politics in the engrossing "Cop Town."

Slaughter, author of the Will Trent best-sellers, keeps her first stand-alone novel from becoming a history lesson by investing it with a gritty, action-packed plot and strong, believable characters.

"Cop Town" opens in 1974, when the appointment of a new public safety commissioner in Atlanta, the first black man to hold such a position, promised that change is coming. But in the police department's rank and file, the good ol' boy attitude thrived.

Veteran police officer Maggie Lawson is paired with new recruit Kate Murphy, a recent widow from an affluent family. Kate's arrival coincides with a murder spree by "The Shooter," and the two women begin their own investigation, uncovering clues and evidence that the tight network of male cops refuses to acknowledge.

Slaughter's meticulous research of the era infuses "Cop Town" with details that illustrate the tension among the officers who resent that their ranks now include women. It's only when Maggie and Kate work together that they discover their skill in crime detection and their power to change the police force - and their own lives.

Reviewer Oline H. Cogdill writes for the Associated Press.