Fresh Meat: Doing the Devil’s Work by Bill Loehfelm

Doing the Devil's Work by Bill Loehfelm is the third book starring Maureen Coughlin, an up-and-coming New Orleans police officer trying to rebuild her life (available January 6, 2014).

Doing the Devil's Work is the third book in the Maureen Coughlin series by Bill Loehfelm. In The Devil in Her Way, Coughlin was a probationary officer with the New Orleans Police Department. In the newest installment, she’s patrolling on her own, something she likes a little too much.

Officer Maureen Coughlin – OC on the streets – is fun to read. She feels real on the page, with the fears and follies of actual people. She worries and second guesses and charges ahead and has better twenty-twenty in hindsight. She’s also not a part of the breed of fictional supercops. She’s not a homicide detective; she’s not a detective of any sort. She’s just barely out of training and still on probation, which means the stakes for her screw ups aren’t always life or death, but could spell the death of her livelihood. Or her freedom.

She thought of the advice she’d heard public defenders give their clients, and that prosecutors had given to her before she faced a cross: answer only the question you are asked, offer nothing, anticipate nothing. Simply react. Calmly. Thoughtfully. She wiped, flushed, and stood. She reassembled her uniform.

Before heading back outside to meet Preacher, she washed her hands, taking a moment to study herself in a mirror. She had bags under her eyes, tiny wrinkles had appeared at their corners. Her lips were pale and dry. The edges of her nostrils were bloodless and white, as always when she was upset. She recalled the couple of times she’d testified in court, staring into the mirror like she was doing now, what little makeup she owned scattered on the restroom sink, unsure if it was better for the city’s case that she look like a cop or a pretty girl. Juries these days trusted pretty girls, even average to moderately attractive ones with New York accents, more than they trusted the police. They trusted anyone more than they trusted police. Even the police didn’t trust the police.

Trust is in short supply in New Orleans for Office Coughlin. A city known as much for its corruption as for Mardi Gras, the powers cleaning it up seem to be as hard to satisfy as the old boy network, and Maureen keeps finding that it’s far too easy to run afoul of both. The old guard and the still-too-fresh pain and anger from a city long-ignored isn’t ready to roll over for the invading decrees and overseers no matter how good the intentions. Maureen, more loyal to her new city than she thinks she’s ever been to her old, finds herself caught between what should be, what is, and what might be. And, as in any city with as much history as New Orleans, Maureen finds some loyalty comes at high costs.

“…You think Solomon needs to throw parties like this, for poor-ass saxophone and piano players? He kept generators going twenty-four seven after Katrina. This house was one of the only places in town cops could get AC and a cold drink. Hot food. A shower. It was more than the fucking city or the state or the motherfuckers shooting at us from the Magnolia projects rooftops or the fucking feds who now, suddenly, want to be in charge of shit, had for us. Those of us who were here, we remember who stood with us.  There’s no expiration date on that. You just got here. Why don’t you try to learn something instead of telling everybody how it oughtta be?”

Quinn pointed at the house. “There are going to be half a dozen kinds of Rex in there tonight. They throw charity parties like this all year long. They’re big society big shots. They fucking mayor will be here tonight. Come Mardi Gras, you wanna be out on the fucking parade route every night, your back hurting, your feet hurting, dealing with drunk college kids and middle schoolers from the ‘hood with guns? Or do you want gigs like this, where people bring you hot coffee and jambalaya all night? I’m trying to be your friend here, Coughlin, and plug you into the circuit. No bullshit. No joke. That academy rigamarole ain’t the job. You should know that by now. This is the job.”

It’s great to watch Maureen grow as a police officer, to come into her own, to set down roots in her new city and job, and to try to balance her propensity for violence and anger with her duties that require delicacy and diplomacy. She’s far from perfect, but she keeps trying. She means well, but she blunders like the rest of us – and some of those have to potential to unravel everything she’s created. And that might be the most realistic aspect of the book and the character. 

And I say that as someone who’s gotten rather bored with the police procedurals and the typical mystery formula. It’s not the story of [Sleuth A] inserted into [Murder Plot B]. It’s the story of a former waitress remaking her like after tragedy. It’s the story of corruption and danger larger than the streets. It’s the story of a few dumb decisions snowballing into worse choices. It’s the story of complicated people doing the best they can. Oh, and there’s a couple of murders. You know, because it’s New Orleans and people get killed there, but who killed the guy they find on page one? He’s the least of OC’s problems.

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Neliza Drew is a tofu-eating teacher and erratic reader with a soft spot for crime fiction. She lives in the heat and humidity of southern Florida with three cats and her adorable hubby. She listens to way too much music, writes often, and spends too much time on Twitter (@nelizadrew).

Read all posts by Neliza Drew on Criminal Element.

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