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by Christine Barber
Minotaur Books, April 2013
273 pages
ISBN: 1250004721

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Detective Gil Montoya is at the opening ceremonies to Santa Fe's celebration of the Christmas season when he receives a call regarding fatalities at a house fire. The balance between a sensitive presentation of the customs and Native American lore that underlie the town and high-intensity suspense is a hallmark of Christine Barber's third book, WHEN THE DEVIL DOESN'T SHOW.

Lucy Newroe, a volunteer EMT and firefighter who struggles with the potential conflict of interest between her volunteer work and her profession as a newspaperwoman, is busy at the fire. The intensity of the fire is matched by Barber's writing as the reader experiences the claustrophobia caused by the dense smoke while Lucy attempts to find any people caught in the burning house. The reader feels the depth of Lucy's exhaustion while she stores the fire hose as Gil and team arrive to investigate the bodies left behind when the fire was extinguished.

As it turns out, the dead homeowners were murder victims resulting from an earlier home invasion, not victims of the fire. Potential hate crimes, the New Mexico film industry, Los Alamos, and crypto-Judaism all come into play as Gil and his team try frantically to figure out who is responsible for a series of deadly home invasions. The highly suspenseful scenes as the detectives move closer to finding the murders are balanced by gentler scenes of the town's preparations for Christmas.

Barber uses the intensity of some moments and the calmness of others to provide the depth of character that makes each of her detectives and Lucy feel like old friends. We come to know all of these crime fighters well. As Gil and his partner Joe make a final chase of the murderer into the mountains surrounding Santa Fe, we feel the cold, the perilousness of the ground beneath the snow, and the futility of trying to find a man fleeing through a blizzard right along with them. The suspense that Barber provides, along with allowing us to see the more tender side of the characters, pulls us into the story.

When dealing with the home invaders, however, Barber is less able to guide the reader to an understanding. With one exception, the motives behind the invaders' moves are unclear. This lack of a sense of why the killings are taking place sucks some of the life out of the plot. This one fault of the book is dwarfed by Barber's otherwise strong characterization and well-realized sense of place and history.

And I loved the ending. You will have to read the book to see what I mean…and I'll be going back to read the first two books to revisit Gil, Lucy, and Santa Fe.

§ Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, April 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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