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Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Devil She Knows by Bill Loehfelm

Picador, 336 pages, $16 (c2012)

Maureen Coughlin is a waitress at a dive bar on Staten Island. She is only 26 years old, but she is old before her time, having frittered away her youth, partially because of alcohol and drug abuse, but also because of her lack of ambition and bad family relationships. She is a mess. One night she figures she can’t sink any lower when, drunk and disoriented, she spies an intimate sexual act between her boss and a man running for political office. Of course the political figure, Frank Sebastian, is not a man to cross, having buried — one suspects actually as well as figuratively — some bodies. What’s a girl to do? Not what Maureen does, that’s for certain.

Maureen does the equivalent of pulling her hair, screaming, and running around in circles for the entire book. If you told her not to go into the dark basement, she would set her mouth in a determined line and do it anyway. If you told her to go into hiding, she would take out an ad announcing her location and point a neon sign at herself. If she had been a regular person with “normal” reactions, the book would have ended at page twenty.

She does find a protector (maybe) in lugubrious, weary Detective Nat Waters. He never deems it necessary to let Maureen know what’s going on — nor should he — but she acts on half-suspected, no-basis-for-thinking-this scenarios. Detective Waters probably should have filled her in because he spends way more time bailing her out of fixes than he would have explaining things.

Maureen, for her part, is becoming savvy in the dark ways of the world, and her righteous indignation flows like water. She is determined to root out evil and take herself out of danger. But first she must look danger in the eye. (There is an overabundance of talk about looking people in the eye, not looking people in the eye, looking at feet while avoiding same.)

To enjoy a book I like to like a main character, but it’s not necessary. Especially in noir books, the main characters have moral defects, but they and their stories still carry literary punch. I couldn’t wrap any warm fuzzy feelings around Maureen, but I also didn’t find her interesting. This book is carried by a look at a dark night world affected by the criminality of one creepy, powerful guy.

While I enjoyed “The Devil She Knows” overall, I can’t say I was as blown away.

(And would someone tell me, please, why there is a picture of a man on the cover of this book, when it is clearly Maureen's story.)

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