Tuesday, August 6, 2013

“Speak of the Devil and he shall appear.”

Speak of the Devil
by Allison Leotta

WARNING: Spoilers for Allison Leotta’s prior novel, Discretion, below.

Readers of Allison Leotta’s Anna Curtis legal thrillers have been waiting on tenterhooks for her latest novel, Speak of the Devil. The mystery of the prior installment, Discretion, was thoroughly wrapped up, but Anna’s personal life ended on a cliff-hanger with the words, “I am going to ask him to marry me.” The End. I ask you, who does that? Torture! The good news is, Speak of the Devil picks up immediately with Anna’s proposal to her significant other, Homicide Chief Jack Bailey. I’ll let you discover what his response is on your own; you won’t have to wait long.

On the professional side of things, what should have been a routine bust on a brothel turns into a murder investigation. Anna is trying to hunt down a machete-wielding monster with ties to a massive criminal gang. Unfortunately, before long this monster with the face of a devil is trying to hunt Anna down as well.

Obviously, there’s much, much more to the tale than that, but in this case, I think that telling less is more. Each of Ms. Leotta’s novels has been more enjoyable than the last, as the plotting of her mysteries becomes defter and readers become more invested in her cast of characters. Reading Speak of the Devil, I was almost incensed by what Ms. Leotta put her protagonist through. I know that authors are supposed to torture their creations, but enough already! As for the mystery, there are some real shockers this time around, causing me to be especially circumspect in my synopsis.

The good news is that most of the supporting characters that readers have grown fond of, such as
Detective McGee and Special Agent Sam Randazzo, are again by Anna’s side, and some interesting new characters are introduced. Mysteries alluded to in prior novels are answered conclusively. In general, the author excels at creating a consistent universe, with passing references to elements of past novels helping to sell the ongoing story.

Also helping sell the story is the extensive knowledge of Anna Curtis’s world that Ms. Leotta brings to her books. Like her protagonist, she too prosecuted sex crimes as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the DC Attorney General’s office. Leotta’s experience lends weight to observations like:
“Why, she wondered, just once, couldn’t a trial go just as planned—with the witnesses saying what you expected? There was always something. In the dozens of cases she’d taken to trial, not a single one went down without some sort of surprise in the middle or immediately before. The only question was how bad the surprise would be.”
Of course, it is those surprises that make for compelling page-turners. Speak of the Devil moves quickly, and to be honest, I had a hard time putting it down. I had never heard of the street gang MS-13 before, but apparently every terrifying thing in this book is true. And just as truth is stranger than fiction, it’s scarier, too. I don’t know whether to be relieved or dismayed that I’m so uninformed about what’s going on in the streets.

I’m grateful that Speak of the Devil doesn’t have the same kind of cliff-hanger ending that Discretion did. However, there may be changes ahead for Anna. This series consistently gets better as it goes. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings.

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