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Loehfelm has another winner in ‘Devil She Knows’

The Devil She Knows” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), by Bill Loehfelm

Maureen Coughlin, a 29-year-old cocktail waitress at a seedy Staten Island bar, has dropped out of college and is lying to her mother about it. She tells herself she’s saving money so she can go back to school, but she knows that is also a lie.

She pictures herself flirting for tips from drunks until she’s too worn out to attract them anymore. The only thing she can aspire to, she figures, is a promotion to work behind the bar. Being a barmaid for life is a terrifying prospect, but she cannot work up the will to do anything about it.

As “The Devil She Knows,” Bill Loehfelm’s third novel, unfolds, Maureen soon discovers what real terror is.

Late one night, after closing time, she stumbles upon a homosexual encounter between her boss and Frank Sebastian, a powerful Staten Island politician.

“I didn’t see anything,” she says, and rushes off. But the next day her boss is found dead on the railroad tracks, and Sebastian warns her that she better keep her mouth shut about what she had seen the previous night.

Maureen promises that she will, and at first she means it. She figures Sebastian killed her boss to silence him, and she has no intention of meeting the same fate. But soon, she wavers. Can she let Sebastian get away with murder?

Sebastian senses what is on her mind and begins to stalk her, sending her threatening messages and dispatching thugs to break into her apartment.

As the threats escalate, Maureen turns to Nat Waters, an aging detective who is struggling with a dark secret. She soon concludes that Waters is no match for Sebastian. She has no choice but to fight back on her own.

In Maureen, Loehfelm has created an unlikely hero who is both appealing and believable. She is fearful and vulnerable, but as the suspenseful story builds, she finds a reservoir of courage she never realized she had.

Loehfelm, who grew up on Staten Island (he now lives in New Orleans), portrays the street life of New York City’s most tribal borough so vividly that the place emerges not so much as a setting but as a main character in its own right. And he tells his story in an original voice that is by turns gritty and lyrical.

“The Devil She Knows” is a worthy successor to the author’s previous Staten Island novels, “Fresh Kills” (2008) and “Bloodroot” (2009). Rarely has a crime novelist launched a career with a trio of books that display such superior craftsmanship.

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Bruce DeSilva is the author of “Rogue Island,” which recently won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for best first novel.

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Online:

http://www.billloehfelm.com/

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