Let the Devil Out by Bill Loehfelm is the 4th installment of the Maureen Coughlin series (Available July 5, 2016).
I remember picking up the first book to feature Maureen Coughlin, The Devil She Knows, and kicking myself for not discovering her sooner. In that book, Maureen was a New York waitress that caught the attention of a psychopath, to terrifying end, and it changed her. Take note, though: there is nothing soft about Maureen Coughlin. She’s not physically imposing, but she carries with her a coiled tension—a bit like a snake about to strike.
And she bites.
It’s obvious she is suffering from PTSD going into the 2nd book in the series, The Devil in Her Way, which finds her fresh out of the police academy and far away from home, as a rookie patrol officer in the New Orleans PD. She quickly bonds with her training officer, Preacher Boyd, and to say that Maureen is eager is putting it lightly. She’s ambitious to a fault and tends to run headlong into trouble.
New Orleans was an inspired choice for setting, because Maureen’s inner turmoil matches the ongoing turmoil of the city, post-Katrina, and a police department trying to regain the city’s trust.
At the start of Let the Devil Out, Maureen is finishing up six weeks of paid administrative leave, after the explosive conclusion of Doing the Devil’s Work, and she’s itching to get back to work. Maureen isn’t one to sit still, and she’s definitely not one to sit on the sidelines, so she burns off some of that energy dishing out a bit of vigilante justice—but even she knows it’s not a sustainable existence. When she does get her badge back, self-doubt creeps in, and it’s painfully on display with her meeting with her boss, DC Skinner:
Deep breaths, she told herself. A steady voice and eye contact. Show him, she thought. Prove to this man he can trust you.
Maureen sat in the office chair before his desk. She crossed her legs, folded her hands in her lap. She uncrossed her legs, settled her arms on the arms of the chair. She had to pee. She cursed herself for the agitated fidgeting. She hated herself for wearing her hair down, for playing at being a girl. She’d been so much calmer following a strange man down a dark street. A man, she thought, who didn’t know she was there, who wasn’t looking right at her. A man with no power over her.
She’s thrown right back into the investigation of a cop-killing, white-supremacist group, called the Sovereign Citizens, and must cooperate with the FBI—which no one in the department wants to do. Control is a big thing to Maureen, and she despises being seen as weak.
She’s also found a mentor in the form of a tall, blond Homicide Detective Atkinson, who has brought her in to several cases. She despises people like Solomon Heath, who she suspects is using his vast wealth to fund the group that’s terrorizing cops all over the city. If she’d just get out of her own way, she could be a big part of the takedown.
When someone she’s close to becomes a victim, it’s personal, and even she is a bit afraid of what she’s become and that it might be evident to those closest to her.
And for the life of her, Maureen couldn’t think of a sane way to explain everything she knew to Preacher, or even to Atkinson. Forget Detillier. There was no talking to any of them without sounding like she had Poe’s beating heart under her floor. Not without telling them that, on a cold November night very much like this one, she had killed two men with her bare hands. She didn’t know how talk about what she’d done. Or how it had made her feel. Not without revealing that deep, deep down inside her, in places where no man’s breath or body, where no doctor’s probing fingers or questions, where no other human being had ever reached, in the abyss inside her where the darkest things with the sharpest teeth lived and swam and hunted, she missed that killing feeling, the blood running over her hands, through her fingers. The unassailable power of being the one who lived.
Bill Loehfelm is a pro, and he manages to give just enough literary sensibility to appeal to those that love a little more meat to their thrillers, while keeping the pages turning with startling speed. Make no mistake, though, Maureen is the star of this show, dragging her tattered wings around a city that’s been through so much, and is still rebuilding—much like Maureen herself.
It’s impossible not to fall for her, because even as capable as she is, she’s got her demons, as we all do, and when she stumbles, readers will root for her to right herself, turn her back to the wind, and kick some serious ass. Add in the timely subject of domestic terrorism, and you’ve got a tense and, at times, terrifying read. This is how suspense is done.
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