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The Devil's Feather    by Minette Walters order for
Devil's Feather
by Minette Walters
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2006 (2005)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Thirty-six year old Connie Burns - the tall, blonde, and determinedly independent narrator of Minette Walter's latest suspenseful novel - has plenty of experience as a globe-trotting journalist. Having spent most of her 'life in Africa, first as a child, then working for newspapers in Kenya and South Africa, and lately for Reuters as a newswire correspondent,' Connie - as we join the action of The Devil's Feather - has a fateful encounter with a disturbing individual in 2002: Finishing up her tour of duty as a reporter in Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa, Connie has the misfortune of meeting an enigmatic, duplicitous soldier-of-fortune who calls himself John Harwood; he is, however, an extremely dangerous man and - if Connie is correct in her suspicions - he is a terrifying sociopath who is responsible (although neither arrested nor prosecuted) for the brutal murders of quite a few Freetown prostitutes, otherwise referred to as 'devil's feathers' by the violent Harwood.

Now, fast-forward to 2004. Connie is in Baghdad, Iraq, and she notices a disturbingly familiar man who is now apparently working as a security consultant in the Green Zone. Calling himself Kenneth O'Connell, this man is - according to Connie - almost certainly the latest diabolical incarnation of John Harwood (who had previously called himself Keith MacKenzie when he was in Kinshasa). Problems quickly arise when Connie begins making inquiries of O'Connell's employer. And then - in what seems to everyone else to be either an event unrelated to Connie's inquiries or, even worse, an attention-grabbing and falsified incident - Connie is apparently abducted in Baghdad. After reportedly enduring three days of the most demeaning and abusive treatment, however, Connie is abruptly released.

After her harrowing experience in Iraq, Connie returns to England - staying briefly with her parents in London - and then retreats to the relative isolation and tranquility of Barton House, a rental home in the West Country. First she meets and befriends - although that may not quite be the right word - a new circle of acquaintances: Jess Derbyshire, an eccentric and taciturn neighbor, the owner of intimidating mastiffs, and a woman whose past is marred by tragedy and mystery; Peter Coleman, the self-sufficient and unpredictable doctor in the nearby village who seems to know quite a bit about everyone; and Madeleine Wright Harrison, the suspiciously overbearing daughter of Barton House's owner and wife of an unsuccessful artist whose paintings and prints seem to hang everywhere in Barton House. Connie's new acquaintances soon make her suspect that there are some malevolent secrets hidden in Barton House, yet it is there that Connie must remain and try to begin a separate and new chapter in her life.

Connie, however, as a traumatized victim of abduction in Baghdad had then become a 'prisoner without power,' and she now - for complex imagined and actual reasons - remains a prisoner in Barton House. Guided by a bit of wisdom from Thucydides - 'The secret of happiness is freedom; and the secret of freedom, courage' - Connie knows that she must now courageously summon the power within her to overcome the past and fight the real and imagined monsters that continue to torment her. What she soon discovers, though, is that one of the very real monsters - the sadistic man with multiple identities, the suspected murderer of the 'devil's feathers,' the presumed abductor in Baghdad - will not let her forget the past, and he is very much interested in confronting and tormenting Connie once again.

Minette Walters pulls out all the stops in The Devil's Feather. Gothic in its thematic implications, complicated in its plot structure, and tightly focused on the nooks-and-crannies of psychological verisimilitude, The Devil's Feather will, of course, appeal to Walters' many fans. Caveat emptor: This is not a light-and-breezy cozy mystery that will easily fit into your late summer beach-reading schedule; plan on shelving your impatience, and instead plan on a labyrinthine tale overflowing with carefully plotted and deliberately paced exposition, more than a few attention-grabbing digressions and rhetorical diversions, and a full cast of complex characterizations.

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