The Devil's Feather

by Minette Walters

I favor novels with a high quotient of what I privately refer to,
somewhat blasphemously, as "the holy trinity": explosions, karate
and sex. While I don't say this in jest --- well, maybe a little
--- my primary concern is character development, which might
explain my enjoyment of THE DEVIL'S FEATHER. There are certainly
erotic elements within this book, along with violence, though
incidents of the latter take place for the most part offstage and
in past tense. Primarily though, it's the story of an unlikely
friendship that develops (somewhat grudgingly) between two women
whose bond is forged by facing a cunning and dangerous adversary
--- actually, two of them.

Connie Burns, a British war correspondent, is in Sierra Leone when
five women are brutally raped, tortured and murdered. Some suspects
are apprehended and the matter is considered closed. Burns,
however, soon starts thinking that a British mercenary, a man whom
we come to know as Keith MacKenzie, may be responsible. MacKenzie
and Burns cross paths in other theaters of war --- South Africa,
Iraq --- and it's in the latter setting where matters initially
come to a head. Burns, believing she has seen MacKenzie training
Iraq security forces, also is aware of a series of murders similar
to the Sierra Leone incidents. She begins to investigate MacKenzie,
prodding his employer, when she's abruptly kidnapped; released
after three days, she denies being tortured or possessing any
knowledge regarding her kidnapper.

It is clear though that Burns is traumatized, and upon her return
to England, she quickly isolates herself in a somewhat decrepit
rental estate in the countryside of Winterbourne Barton. She can't
find peace there either --- only warfare of a quieter sort. Upon
her arrival she encounters Jess Derbyshire, an extremely odd duck
who is somewhat of a pariah among the local townspeople. Madeleine
Wright (Burns's landlord) and Derbyshire have a number of points of
subtle but sharp conflict that are revealed slowly throughout the
book, though the extent of Wright's villainy is not fully realized
until the conclusion.

Meanwhile, MacKenzie is a shadowy, nightmarish presence throughout
this work as the circumstances of Burns's abduction are slowly
revealed and he comes ever closer to finding Burns and provoking a
final confrontation. Minette Walters's style is stately; she turns
up the suspense incrementally so that when the boogie man arrives,
as we know he eventually will, one almost cannot believe that the
moment has come. And while careful readers will quickly determine
the solution to one of the piece's two mysteries, the enjoyment of
witnessing Burns verbally parry and thrust during an interrogation
with a local constable is worth the price of admission all by

THE DEVIL'S FEATHER defies easy categorization. It is unique in
that it contains elements of a suspense novel that to some extent
are relegated to the background in favor of a study in
relationships. Accordingly, it is somewhat of a bridge between a
genre novel and more general fiction, but guaranteed to appeal to
readers of both.


Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 29, 2010

The Devil's Feather
by Minette Walters

  • Publication Date: July 17, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0307277070
  • ISBN-13: 9780307277077