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The Devil's Feather: A Novelby Minette Walters
"[S]tylish and frightening....There are small town dramas and tangled family histories here, too, but The Devil's Feather is at its core a tricky, psychologically acute and thrilling novel about the effects of violence on human character." Anna Godbersen, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
In each of her previous ten critically acclaimed and hugely popular novels, Minette Walters has explored the dark terrain of the human psyche to give us thrillers of exceptional psychological complexity and suspense. Now, in The Devil's Feather, she gives us her most unexpected and electrifying novel yet.
In 2002, five women are discovered barbarously murdered in Sierra Leone. Reuters Africa correspondent Connie Burns suspects a British mercenary: a man who seems to turn up in every war-torn corner of Africa, whose reputation for violence and brutality is well-founded and widely known. Connie's suspicions that he's using the chaos of war to act out sadistic, misogynistic fantasies fall on deaf ears — but she's determined to expose him and his secret.
The consequences are devastating.
Connie encounters the man again in Baghdad, but almost immediately she's taken hostage. Released after three desperate days, terrified and traumatized by the experience — fearing that she will never again be the person she once was — Connie retreats to England. She is bent on protecting herself by withholding information about her abduction. But secluded in a remote rented house — where the jealously guarded history of her landlady's family seems to mirror her own fears — she knows that it is only a matter of time before her nightmares become real.
With its sinuous plot, its acutely drawn characters, and its blistering suspense, The Devil's Feather keeps us riveted from first to last. It is a dazzling reminder of why Publishers Weekly has dubbed Minette Walters "Agatha Christie with the gloves off."
"The English writer Minette Walters' new novel, a study of rape and its consequences, begins in the hell of today's Baghdad. Citing a Human Rights Watch report, Walters tells us that attacks on women have risen sharply amid the anarchy of war. The victims, she says, can be either Western women snatched off the street or Muslim women attacked in their homes. Her heroine, 36-year-old Reuters correspondent... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Connie Burns, is investigating a series of attacks when she is herself kidnapped, held in a cellar for three days and subjected to abuse and humiliation. When she is freed, she refuses to discuss what was done to her and hurries to England to put the horror behind her — but that, of course, is not so easy. Although Burns was blindfolded throughout her ordeal, she is sure she knows who attacked her and why. He's a soldier of fortune named Keith MacKenzie whom she first encountered two years earlier in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in the aftermath of the civil war there. He was notorious for his brutality, and she suspected him of involvement in a series of rapes and murders. It was after she noticed him in Baghdad, working for a private security firm, that she was seized. Using an assumed name, Burns rents an isolated house on the Dorset coast, only to learn that MacKenzie has left Baghdad and is believed to be in England. The probability that he is coming to menace her again is basic to the book — she, her friends and family, and the reader all fear his arrival. In a reasonable world, Burns would have done a better job of protecting herself. But this is a thriller, and she is very brave or very reckless, depending on how you see it, and either way she's pretty much a sitting duck. While we await the inevitable confrontation, Burns becomes deeply involved in the lives of several of her new neighbors. She makes friends with a difficult woman named Jess, whose family was killed in an accident some years earlier. She also meets Madeleine, whose mother owns the house she's renting. Madeleine and Jess hate each other. Jess insists that Madeleine has abused her aging mother, and maybe tried to kill her, and Madeleine accuses Jess of being crazy and a stalker. Moreover, Madeleine once stole a man from Jess, and there are other issues between their families that go back two generations. The author lives in Dorset, and this may well be an accurate portrait of life there, but these family histories grow tedious. If they have a point, it is that the sadism and violence in Baghdad prove to have counterparts in Dorset, but that is not a huge surprise. As the Dorset story unfolds, glimpses of Burns' journal remind us of her Baghdad ordeal. We learn that she was kept in a cage, that dogs were used to terrify her and that 'every shameful thing' she was forced to do was videotaped. She agonizes over her submission: 'Is life worth living when you've had to beg for it? How do you function without self-esteem?' When Burns learns that her parents in London are receiving mysterious phone calls, it's clear that her tormentor is drawing near. When the showdown finally comes, Burns acquits herself well, perhaps too well. The horror of her ordeal is persuasive, the ease of her redemption is less so. Walters provides a happy ending but not really a convincing one. Some of today's best young writers are moving the crime novel in the direction of the social novel, examining individual crimes against a background of larger injustice. The novels of Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos and Richard Price are examples, and they are joined by a number of female writers who have often focused on the ugly reality of sex crimes. Karin Slaughter has offered angry portrayals of rape and child abuse in her native Georgia. Mo Hayder examined the notorious mass rape by Japanese soldiers in 1937 in her recent 'The Devil of Nanking.' A few years ago, Joyce Carol Oates published 'Rape: A Love Story,' which suggested that if the police and courts can't provide justice to a woman, vigilante action is the answer. 'The Devil's Feather' moves in this direction, but tentatively. Its strongest scenes offer searing realism: rape and murder in Sierra Leone and Iraq, and flashbacks to Burns' family losing its Zimbabwe farm to thugs supported by the Mugabe regime. Those episodes have urgency and bite, and I wish she'd done more with them and less with small-town gossip and family feuds in Dorset. Walters is a talented writer, but she seems to be writing two novels in 'The Devil's Feather,' and only one of them grabbed me." Reviewed by Patrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Have current events finally caught up with Walters's unremittingly brutal imagination?...Genteel and horrifying as ever, with a particularly unsparing examination of the rage of traumatized victims." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"A thoughtful and accomplished thriller." Daily Telegraph
"Walters has succeeded in uniting the traditional crime narrative with a distressing and effective account of the private cruelties that can flourish amid general mayhem. In doing so, she takes the genre to a deeper level." The Independent
"This is high octane, on-the-edge stuff, at which Walters excels...The Devil's Feather [is] engrossing reading." The Times (London)
"Walters really knows how to write convincing, ever-escalating psychological suspense." Booklist
"Walters successfully keeps the suspense high, using a complex structure that parsimoniously releases the details of Connie's abduction and eventual confrontation, though readers may still have questions at the end." Library Journal
When five woman are brutally murdered in Sierra Leone, Reuters correspondent Connie Burns suspects a British mercenary who seems to be using the chaos of war to act out sadistic, misogynist fantasies. Connie's suspicions fall on deaf ears, but she's determined to expose the man and his secret. The consequences are devastating. She meets him again in Baghdad but is taken hostage shortly afterward. Terrified and traumatized by the experience, Connie escapes to England, determined to protect herself by withholding information abouther abduction. In a remote rented house- where the dark, hidden history ofher landlady's family seems to mirror her own fears- she waits, knowing it's only a matter of time before her nightmares become real... With it's sinuous plot, it's vividly drawn characters, and its breathless, unrelenting suspense, The Devil's Feather keeps us riveted from first to last.
About the Author
Minette Walters is the author of eleven novels, two novellas, and a number of short stories. Her work, which has been published in more than thirty-five countries, has received several major awards, including two Gold Daggers from the Crime Writers' Association in Great Britain and the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America. She lives in Dorset, England. Visit her website at www.minettewalters.co.uk.
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