The Devil’s Feather – Minette Walters

Tdfcover_4I was hooked on the books of Minette Walters from the summer of 1993, when I returned to the UK.

My first was “The Scold’s Bridle”.  For me, it was such a superior read that I rushed back to the book shop in my lunch time to buy the other two on the shelves.  From that time, her books have been an event for me; I’ve waited for the next book to come out and bought each one in hardback.  I’m not the only one to lay hands on my MW books either, various members of my family have purloined and luckily returned the books I so treasure.

Minette Walters always turns the concept of WISIWYG on its head.  What you see is NOT what you get, if you read her books through to the final word and full stop.

The “event” this time means I am writing this as I wait for a casserole to cook.  I’d planned to do the casserole yesterday evening, but I’d achieved approximately 100 pages from the end of “The Devil’s Feather” and dear Minette was just ratcheting up a gear, accelerating to the end and dénouement; so I’m sorry, but I really didn’t have time to prep the veg.  I was simply too busy reading.

I approached this book with some trepidation having read the synopsis.  I thought I might hate it.  Yes, honestly.  Subject matter not to my taste at all, but I should have been more trusting.  With Minette Walters, we are all in safe hands.  There are two interwoven stories in this book.

A traumatised journalist, Connie Burns, slips into the UK from Iraq, where she had been held hostage. She then slips away quietly down to Dorset, taking a lease on a shambles of a property in order to recover and write a book.  We know from the beginning that her incarceration was not at the hands of anyone with a political motive, but at the hands of a British man she had hoped to expose as a psychopath and serial killer of women in war zones.  We do not know initially exactly what she suffered, but that’s where Minette delivers the goods here.  A drip feed of information is what creates the suspense in the book.  It is also handled sensitively.  On times, Minette is very direct with her facts, but she does not linger with extensive description, we certainly get the picture and anything else is left up to our imaginations.

In Dorset, Connie meets a rather intriguing character, Jess Derbyshire, and becomes embroiled in the history and current conflicts between the Derbyshires and the Wrights from whom she rents the property.  In essence, it is this story that forms the main part of the plot in the book.  Jess, never quite coming across as Connie’s friend, but nonetheless acting like one on many occasions, albeit with quite a hard edge to her, is a very cleverly created character and one whose back story we’d really like to know.  Connie is no exception with her journalistic curiosity; her aim is to find out more about Jess and we accompany her on that journey.  Is Jess, a victim many times over, good or evil?  We do not find out until the bittersweet end.

Connie has chosen Dorset to hide away from the man she most fears.  I think I will give nothing away if I say that the dénouement involved his reappearance.  I expected it and I’m sure you will too.  As for what happens and what happens afterwards, I encourage you to read the book.

I’ll admit that I thought at one point, within the first third of the book, that Minette Walters had lost it this time.  There was simply too much telling of the story in the first person of Connie that I felt I was wading through treacle as I read.  But I stuck with it and found yet again I was in trusted hands.

I’ve also read a review that said neither Connie nor Jess are sympathetic characters, at the same time as heralding the book, I have to add.  Connie and Jess are both traumatised characters and for different reasons.  None of us know how we would actually react to such circumstances; we can only imagine.  And I can assure you of one thing from personal experience; what we imagine may not be the way we react.  I always imagined I’d be cool and calm and the first to the phone to dial 999 if presented with violence of any sort. Twenty years ago, I discovered otherwise; I froze.  Reactions are personal and individual.  How we react to trauma is where Minette Walters excels.  What is on the surface as opposed to what is the truth underneath is the other area in which Minette Walters excels.

I found some passages in the book that made me “jolt to a halt” too.  The first was a description of a Mini in an encounter with a piece of mobile farm equipment.  I don’t think I’ll be buying a Mini soon, as a result. And I’ll be avoiding farms too, while smiling, boy that was a good ‘un!

Then there was a conversation between the two main characters, Jess and Connie, about ageing and the impact of Alzheimer’s on an older person.  This was so acutely observed, to the point and so very real.  Finally, there was a piece of text where I thought “My God, she’s cheeky”.  Minette or the character?  Who knows?  A flitting one liner in its place.  It brought a smile to my face.  But just remember this: a book by Minette Walters is always more than a simple plot well executed.

Minette has drawn on her charitable visits overseas for this book.  I suggest you check out her own introduction to “The Devil’s Feather” by video, via this link:

http://www.minettewalters.co.uk/press_centre/tdf_presskit.htm

No one does it better.

I don’t regret the 24 hour delay on that casserole, one iota.  In fact, even smelling its sweet aroma right now, I don’t regret reading “The Devil’s Feather” as a displacement activity from that casserole, one iota, and period.  It was a damn good read.  I enjoyed it.  Greatly.  What more can I say?  (Apart from the fact I am now hungry for more…)