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by Bill Loehfelm
Sarah Crichton Books, May 2013
288 pages
ISBN: 0374298858

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The city of New Orleans has always been a fertile ground for crime fiction: its abundance of culture, history, and landscape makes it quite inviting for crime writers. However, much of this work has historically focused on the French Quarter, voodoo, and other aspects of the city that more represent the New Orleans that tourists see, rather than the less glamorous parts of the city than many residents call home. This perhaps has receded a bit in the post-Katrina era, and there is no better example of that than Bill Loehfelm's THE DEVIL IN HER WAY, which follows policeman-in-training Maureen Coughlin as she learns the unwritten rules of the NOLA police department and navigates her way through many personal and professional challenges.

On the first day of her last week of training, Maureen is paired with Preacher, a rotund man who's seen it all and is fazed by none of it and would rather go home at the exact end of his shift than stay on duty an extra ten minutes and catch a dangerous criminal. She also has to deal with the end of her casual relationship with a young local bartender. Hoping to get through the week without doing anything to cost her the badge that she's sacrificed a lot to earn, Maureen is instead pulled into a tangled web that begins after a seemingly routine drug bust, when she notices the strange behavior of several neighborhood youth near an abandoned car. Preacher and other superiors urge her to be cautious, but Maureen is spurred into action when one of the suspicious youths is found murdered and no one - the neighbor or her fellow police officers included -seems overly concerned.

Bill Loehfelm's writing is engaging even as it explores a gritty and bleak situation. While some of the characters and their dialogue occasionally does drop into that stereotypical "cops with attitude" speak that often marks this kind of book, each character is exceptionally well-drawn and interesting in their own right. The novel also explores post-Katrina New Orleans and the unglamorous neighborhoods that many reside in, in a way that is enlightening without being heavy-handed. If THE DEVIL IN HER WAY has a major flaw, it's that the plot and mystery is rather weak and the reader occasionally has to strain to get through a story that serves more as an impetus for action and conflict than is absolutely necessary, in order to enjoy the rich characters and scenery.

This is the second in a series (after THE DEVIL SHE KNOWS) and Loehfelm delivers an impressive novel that will satisfy those who enjoy vicarious trips to New Orleans, gritty procedurals, and well-drawn fiction in general. Leaving aside the occasional cliché in dialogue and a crime plot that leaves more than a bit to be desired, THE DEVIL IN HER WAY is a solid entry in what one can only hope will become a long series.

§ Ben Neal is a public librarian in northeastern Tennessee and likes to fancy himself an amateur writer, humorist, detective, and coffee connoisseur in his spare time. He can be reached at beneneal@indiana.edu.

Reviewed by Ben Neal, July 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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