Book Review: The Devil Can Wait by Marta Stephens
The Devil Can Wait: A Sam Harper Crime Mystery
by Marta Stephens
BeWrite Books, November 2008
Reviewed by Kathryn Magendie
When the bodies of three teenagers wash ashore, each killed in a unique and ritualistic way, detective Sam Harper steps on the job. As he plunges into the mystery surrounding these murders, things aren't always as they first appear. Then, there is another murder, but this one seems to be a copycat--or is it?, for while evidence can lead astray, a "dead body never lies." There are strange goings-on in the city of Chandler, and the bodies will multiply if Harper doesn't find answers. Add to the mix lack of sleep, pressure from community leaders and colleagues, a snarl in witnesses and the evidence, and Harper's frustration deepens.
While Harper works to solve the murders, there is evil and intrigue emerging in South America. A black pearl ring, traced back to the Vatican (and perhaps even fashioned by Satan himself?) becomes another "character." When the black pearl ring's mistress is murdered and the ring is stolen from her lifeless fingers, its purported successor is enraged, and he wants the ring back at any human cost. The ring will find its way to America via shady dealings, greed--and perhaps even by prophecy and the supernatural?
Enter reporter Jennifer Blake, who is not the clichéd crime drama blonde, blue eyed, and leggy, but a real Human Woman who Stephens fashioned strong and independent (but not invincible!). When she comes in possession of the ring as a favor to her old college professor, she not only puts herself in danger from a malevolent stranger, but when the pawnshop dealer she retrieves the ring from is murdered, she is considered a suspect by Sam Harper.
What forces are really behind the ring's legacy?
As Harper and Blake search for answers, the ring, the evil stranger, the Catholic Church, the innocent and the seemingly innocent will converge. As the plot unravels, danger comes not only from the expected, but from the unexpected. And, to make matters more intense, homicide detective Harper is cautioned he must hurry, for the alignment of the planets will occur on Christmas Eve, and what evil may come from the uniting of events that this mysterious ring portends?
I was swept away by intrigue and plot twists, for The Devil Can Wait is a true page-turner. Marta Stephens does an excellent job with scene setting, snappy, quick-paced dialogue, and well-written narrative. As well, since I read from an advanced review copy (the book went on sale November 3), I was impressed with the editorial mechanics of the novel.
Stephens writes with a firm, confident hand, and each chapter, even when changing points of view, glides smoothly to the next. The Devil Can Wait gives the reader plenty of twists and turns and, though she could easily have, Stephens does not rely on gratuitous violence but instead lets her good writing and a good crime story shine.
There were a couple of things I felt were left hanging that I wanted "cleaned up," but to tell them here would give away too much. That said, those things didn't take away from my appreciation of The Devil Can Wait. Also, I wanted more chapters in Harper's point of view. It is obvious from Stephen's crafting of character that Harper isn't some one-dimensional gumshoe, so more of his voice would have made me happier. However, there is enough about him to entice me to read more Sam Harper crime mysteries, for I found Harper to be tough, intelligent, a little hard-headed, but with a vulnerable side (who loves eating dinners with his dad) that made him human and likeable--I may have even fallen in love with him, just a little bit.
I look for more quick-paced, well-written novels from Marta Stephens. After many years of leaving this genre sitting on the shelves, Stephens has brought me back to the crime-mystery novel.
(review first on The Roses & THorns)