The Devil's Feather
Minette Walters
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The Devil's Feather
Minette Walters
368 pages
July 2007
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Devil's Feather.

This novel begins with a series of heinous murders, journalist Connie Burns giving a wide berth in Sierra Leone to the man she is convinced is responsible, a cruel-eyed mercenary with a tattoo at the base of his bald head. Burns is quite disturbed when later, in Iraq, she sees this same man offering the Iraqis training in interrogation techniques with dogs.

Haunted by the brutal deaths of the women in Sierra Leone, Connie searches local reports to determine if similar unexplained killings have occurred in Iraq. Before she can contact her news agency with what she has discovered or confront MacKenzie or his boss, Connie is kidnapped, held hostage and released after three days, although no one claims responsibility for the kidnapping.

Traumatized by the harrowing ordeal, Connie flees to the assumed safety of the UK, renting a country house in a remote valley, sealing herself off from the memory of her ordeal, hoping to recover the equanimity she has lost. Unfortunately, the journalist remains a victim of her fears, unable to free herself from the images of her treatment at the hands of a monster.

The rented house in Barton Winterbourne comes with its own history, an elderly woman recently removed for care after the increasing ravages of dementia, the house now rented for income by the woman’s daughter, Madeline. Madeline importunes the newcomer to beware of a neighbor, Jess Derbyshire, a young woman running a family farm alone after the accidental death of her entire family.

As much of an outcast and loner as Connie, Jess comes to Burns’ rescue, accurately assessing the extremity of Connie’s condition, leading her quietly away from the abyss. It was Jess who cared for Madeline’s mother, but the enmity between Madeline and Jess runs deep, rooted in family secrets that Jess is not about to share with a stranger.

Yet the two women grow close as Jess helps Connie to face the depth of her trauma and the implications for the rest of her life. A determined and stubborn recluse, Connie finds comfort inside the walls of her house - until the night when MacKenzie appears on her doorstep, and she has no choice but to make a decision to live in fear or die at the hands of her tormentor.

Walters works her magic with this protagonist, exploring the nature of torture and the random violence of war, the psychic damage inflicted by fear and the slow recovery of a mind broken by absolute terror and the instinct to survive.

When violence reaches out from Iraq to the Dorset coast and evil intrudes on the bucolic countryside, two incredibly resourceful women, as eccentric as any of Walters’ characters, deal with a menace that would annihilate them. Heroic in the face of adversity, Connie draws strength from Jess, heroic in spite of fear, reclaiming her place in the world. Once again, Walters illustrates that terror knows no boundaries.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2007

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