A complex and twisty psychological thriller, with characters that fairly jump off the page.

In an earlier blog I asked the question: What is brave? The dictionary defines it as ‘ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage’. It is not, therefore, the same as ‘fearless’.

The Devil’s Feather by Minette Walters was published in 2005 and is set in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The premise of the plot is simple – that in the trouble-spots of the world it would be all-too-easy for sexual psychopaths to hide in plain sight and prey on vulnerable women.

In this novel the female protagonist, Connie Burns, an experienced war correspondent for Reuters, suspects that a man she first encountered in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and later in Baghdad, is just that. In Freetown he issued a thinly-veiled threat that she shouldn’t probe; and in Baghdad, when she does try to expose him, she’s abducted and tortured in ways that leave no visible mark. After 2-3 days she’s released, broken and terrified, and flees ‘home’ to England (a country she hardly knows as she was born and raised in Zimbabwe).

Suffering from debilitating panic attacks she moves to Dorset where she rents a house, with the possible intention of writing a book. Here she meets Jess, a lonely and reclusive young woman with secrets of her own, and they gradually become friends.

As Connie slowly gets herself together, she draws courage from Jess’s strength and decides that she must try again to set a trap to unmask the psychopath. She knows that if it works, he’ll come for her – and he does. If you want to know what happens next, you’ll have to read the book. And it is worth reading!

Like most of Minette Walters’s early contemporary crime novels this is well researched and well written. The characters fairly jump off the page at you, from the terrified but brave and courageous (and this is where the earlier question about bravery becomes relevant) Connie, to the determined Jess.

I like the writing style. Walters has a neat trick of breaking up her prose with insert newsflashes and newspaper reports as well as emails in a different font and style. That makes the telling of this intrinsically brutal but all too likely story all the more real. Even the psychopath is described in such an understated and menacing way that you would very much not want to meet him on a dark lonely night. Of course, this book and its characters are much more complex than I can describe in these few paragraphs.

All this makes it a step above the usual psychological thriller. It’s complex but coherent, and very frightening in places. It also requires concentration to follow all the twists and the seemingly unconnected strands, although everything comes together in the end. Actually, the ending is very ambiguous, so make of that what you will. But I really liked this book and recommend it. 4 Stars from me.
Review by: Freyja

P.S. Oundle Crime is meeting again! So if you read crime fiction and would like to join us to chat about the books you’ve read and enjoyed, get in touch. Send an email to join@friendsofoundlelibrary.org.uk and we’ll give you the details of our next meeting.