~From Sierra Leone To The West Country via Iraq~
Journalist Connie Burns is no stranger to danger. She works in war zones and areas of turmoil and destruction, filing reports for Reuters as a foreign correspondent. It's a strangely incestuous world where people often cross paths again and again as they chase the story (in the case of the journos) or chase the money (in the case of the 'security' staff and other mercenaries). One particular man - known by various aliases but she calls him MacKenzie - rings Connie's alarm bells wherever she finds him. Connie has spotted a pattern of rapes and murders of local women in Sierra Leone and suspects that the country's war-torn history has been used as cover for a serial killer. Yes, three ex-child soldiers have been beaten into confessions but the modus operandi of the murderer isn't consistent with multiple killers. Nobody seems interested in the deaths of five women in a country where civil war will clock up an alleged total of 50,000 deaths.
When Connie moves to Baghdad and finds similar unsolved sexual murders it's only a matter of time before she connects them to MacKenzie when he pops up in Baghdad working for a 'security' firm under an alias. When Connie links his patterns of violent, misogynistic and sadistic behaviour to the Baghdad murders she confronts the head of the firm he works for and hits a brick wall. The more she pushes for information, the more the company resists and covers up for their employee.
Connie is abducted in Baghdad and held captive for three days. On her release she refuses to say anything about what happened and flees to the UK in fear of her life. People are baffled - why isn't she spilling the beans? She's a journalist for goodness sake, but she won't tell her own story. Others start to question whether she really was abducted because she just won't talk about it but some of the things that happened to her are just too horrifying to reveal. She needs to run and hide, to go underground and wallow in her grief - but most of all to get away from the man she fears.
~Hiding in Dorset~
Back in the UK she uses her mother's maiden name and takes a lease on a rambling old house in the West Country, hoping to hide from her abductor - who she fears will become her killer - and to find sanctuary from the violent and humiliating experiences of her captivity. Personally if I wanted to hide I think I'd do it in a city, not in a village, but Minette Walters likes tales of dystopian village life where things are never as chocolate-box-pretty under the surface. She tells nobody who knows her where she is and she tells nobody she meets who she is but it doesn't take some of the more switched on locals to work out her identity.
Her choice of bolt-hole is ill advised and she finds that instead of being at the heart of a small village community, she's rented herself a place that's falling down and cut-off from the main village with no direct neighbours, no mobile phone signal and no broadband. Could Connie have just made herself a sitting duck for the man she's sure will not rest until he's hunted her down? Will Connie succeed in her race against time to persuade the police that MacKenzie is the killer before he finds her?
On the plus side, she's soon at least partially distracted by the mysteries of the house where she's staying, it's elderly owner Lily, her manipulative daughter Madeleine, the village GP Peter and Jess, the young farmer woman and her dogs who set out to protect her whether she wants it or not. How far would Madeleine go to get control of her mother's property and how can Jess and her dogs protect their farm? Can Minette Walters find a way to drag Connie's past as the daughter of an exiled Zimbabwean farmer into the story in any way that will actually make sense?
~Me and Minette~
I've been reading Minette Walters ever since her first book, The Ice House, way back in 1992. The first few were so hot I had to get them the moment they were released but somewhere round about 2000 she seemed to go a bit off the boil. I got frustrated by her tendency to try to squeeze too many entwined plots into every story, annoyed by the way that she wrote as if she didn't actually know 'whodunnit' until far too late in the process, and peeved by her naughty habit of conveniently introducing bad guys from thin air. The Devil's Feather was a refreshing return to the clarity of her earlier writing.
I was amazed when checking her website to discover that I've now read every one of her 13 books and equally amazed that I'd managed to pick up a copy of the only one I hadn't previously read in The Works, the book store that specialises in remaindered stock. The Devil's Feather was her 12th book and one I must have missed whilst I was off sulking about her not being 'as good as she was' and thereby missing her return to former glory.
~Does it work?~
With just the two threads running through - Connie's flight from the killer and the mystery of the old house and its owner - I cared enough about both to hold them equally in my consciousness. She uses her tried and trusted techniques of reproducing emails and extracts from police reports to introduce information without weighing down the plot. Her descriptive powers are undiminished - I could clearly picture the house, decaying around Connie with chunks of wallpaper held up by Blue-tak and the old Aga gasping for life and only Jess knowing how to light it. I believed in Connie's need to keep the details of her abduction a secret and in the redemptive power of her friendship with her extremely introverted neighbour. It's a tale with many morals and many lessons. Yes it's about revenge - on many levels and from many people - but it's also about redemption and renovation, about getting back your sense of self and finding the courage that's been buried so deep that you think it's beyond grasp. It's well paced, compelling, quite believable (unlike some of her others), logical and leaves just enough doubt at the end that you'll have to make your own decisions about just how far Connie and Jess went to ensure Connie's safety. If you already know and love Walters - especially if you feared she'd lost something in her later books - this one is worth a go. If you don't know her, you can start it without the preconceptions that prevented me from reading it sooner.
The Devil's Feather, Minette Walters
ISBN (Hardback) 978-0-307-26462-6
(In softback it runs to a massive 560 pages - I'm not sure why)