The Devil at Your Door by Eric Beetner is the third volume in the Lars and Shaine series.
Eric Beetner’s The Devil at Your Door is the third and presumably final entry in his Lars and Shaine series. It follows The Devil Doesn’t Want Me and When the Devil Comes to Call in chronicling the violent adventures of an unlikely pair. Lars is a contract killer whose skills have allowed him to survive a long time in his dangerous profession. Shaine is an 18-year-old girl who has been living with Lars since circumstances threw them together a couple of years before the events in The Devil at Your Door.
When the novel starts, they’ve been living for a while in seclusion on a Hawaiian island. They have plenty of money and no real need to leave their comfortable spot. Beetner lets you know all this in less than three pages, and whether or not you’ve read the two previous books in the series—I’ve read neither—makes no difference. The author brings his characters to life at once, and you quickly know all you need to know about the basics of their relationship.
But he was doing it for her. For Shaine.
It was like doing it for his daughter. Nikki was the one who put out the hit on Shaine’s father all those years ago. The one who ruined her childhood, who sent Lars out to the desert to kill a man for vengeance…
He set the note on the counter of their beach bungalow and moved through the darkened house toward the door. His soft-sided carry-on bag made no noise and he’d oiled the hinges on every door in anticipation of this moment. He knew how attuned Shaine was to any disturbance, any sound that could mean danger. He’d trained her in it.
He taught her how to shoot, how to react, how to defend herself. In exchange she taught him how to live life outside of the criminal world.
The Nikki in question is the man Lars—sneaking out of the bungalow—is going to kill, and his expectation is that he will then be able to put the criminal world behind him for good. One final trip to Montana, where Nikki lives, and Lars will be done with the hitman stuff. He’ll fly to the States, shoot the man, and return home in a day or two. And based on his note, Shaine will think that he merely left—as he has in the past—for “one of his rare and getting rarer jaunts to the big island for some time with a lady.”
Needless to say, Lars’s plan does not unfold as he intends, and Shaine gets sucked into the situation completely. Both of them wind up in Montana. What began simply expands into a battle royale, and they find themselves fighting for their lives against an assortment of forces: crooked cops, meth producers, and organized crime figures.
That Lars’s final self-appointed “easy” job goes haywire isn’t surprising, but that’s where the book’s predictability ends. From scene to scene, Beetner is adept at keeping you off balance. I would even say that a large part of the fun is watching how he works to outguess the reader. Beetner knows full well that his readers are savvy in the tropes and setups of crime fiction, and he plays off that reader knowledge. He never insults the reader’s intelligence, and he consistently delivers small payoffs you don’t quite anticipate.
If you’ve read the first two Lars and Shaine books, you will come to this one, I’m sure, with a degree of sympathy toward the pair. You will know what they have been through together. As a latecomer to the series, I didn’t have this foreknowledge, but again, it doesn’t matter. The rapport between the pair is succinctly established.
When Shaine comes to the Montana hospital where a shot and wounded Lars lies, it becomes clear that the roles between old and young are changing. Lars once served as Shaine’s protector, but now Lars has been weakened, and while in the hospital for his bullet wounds, he is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. That would account for why his shooting hand, rock-steady in the past, has become shaky. He’s no longer the unerringly lethal shot he was.
Diminished in his capacity as a killer, he doesn’t carry himself with the confidence he did in his prime. But Shaine—employing what she’s learned from him—has audacity for them both. When he expresses the doubts and regrets that come with getting older, she reassures him that his life, violent and amoral as it’s been, has had value.
“We’ve been through a lot, kid. Just tell me one thing.”
“Did I do the right thing?”
A loaded question, heavy with history. Did he make the right choice in his life’s work? Did he make the right choice in coming to kill Nikki? But mostly, did he make the right choice by bringing Shaine into his life? Shaine knew every layer of what the question meant.
Shaine rested her hand over his on the wheel. “One hundred percent.”
“Okay then. One more time with these bastards.”
The dialogue here sounds like something from a Western, partners talking before a big showdown, and The Devil at Your Door—with its Montana setting of open spaces, mountains in the distance, and wide gray skies—does at times have a Western feel. What is Lars if not a gunfighter, with Shaine, in classic fashion, as his protégé? The two do talk and occasionally give voice to their feelings, but most of what they express comes through action.
This is a book that is loaded with action, shoot-outs, and slaughters. The blood flows freely, and as he has done throughout his career, Beetner handles the mayhem with aplomb. It is not cartoon violence—people who get shot feel genuine pain—but his black humor is on ample display to make the violence a lot of fun, at least for the reader.
Shaine had been aiming for his mouth in order to shoot out the tongue saying those awful things to Lars. Her shot went wide and hit him in the ear, passing through and sending a spray of blood and brain and the rest of his unfinished thoughts out onto the dry creek bed.
The Devil at Your Door has tension, a frantic pace, twists and turns, and just enough emotional heft to keep you rooting for Lars and Shaine. As they duck for cover, plan ambushes, and make sure they have each other’s backs, you’re sorely hoping they’ll survive so they can return to their Hawaiian bungalow.
What’s great about Beetner is you know he might give you what you want, but he just as easily may not. Whichever way he chooses to take you, I can tell you one thing: hooked on the propulsive story, you’ll be reading the book fast. Is there any other way to read an Eric Beetner novel?
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Scott Adlerberg is the author of Jack Waters, a historical revenge tale, from Broken River Books. His other books include the noir/fantasy novella Jungle Horses and the psychological thriller Graveyard Love. He co-hosts the Word for Word Reel Talks film commentary series each summer in Manhattan and blogs about books, movies, and writing at the crime fiction site Do Some Damage. He lives in New York City.