Monday, January 1, 2018
The Devil's Song
By Lauren Stahl
Akashic Books 2016
A fast read for a very cold New Year’s Day. I rushed through getting all the Christmas stuff put away so I could read in front of the fire. Aah! Peace, quiet, warmth, and a good book. What more could a person want?
The Devil’s Song by Lauren Stahl is a legal thriller with a female assistant district attorney as the protagonist. Kate Magda comes from a legal heritage—her father is the “President Judge” for the county. ( I had to look that up—it means “chief judge” in Pennsylvania.) Kate lives with her cousin Tess in a house supplied by Kate’s father, who was also Tess’s legal guardian as she was growing up. The two cousins shared a horrific event when they were very young, when Tess’s crazy step-father tried to kill them both. They continue to be haunted by the experience, but their lives are in the process of diverging. Kate is not sure what is happening to Tess, who seems to be drinking and drugging to excess.
A serial killer is on the loose, but he/she is only killing redheads, and redhead Kate is assigned to the case. She realizes very early that the killer seems to be sending a message to her, letting her know that she shares a personal link with the killer, and as a result, Kate fears for her life. The chief detective on the case, Sam Hart and Kate have had an on-again, off-again relationship, and he fears for her as well.
There are a couple of twists and turns, and although the book starts slowly, it builds to an implausible, but effective conclusion. There are some clumsy moments, but in all The Devil’s Song is an engrossing read from a first-time author. I liked how Stahl uses her knowledge of the politics of being a district attorney to her advantage to create a subplot that is just as interesting as the main killer plot. The Devil’s Song most likely is the first in a series, and as Stahl concludes this episode, Kate has survived near death at the hands of the killer. In the final pages, we are fed hints of where the future of ADA Kate Magda may lay.
The title, The Devil’s Song, has very little to do with the plot. It comes from a quote by H. H. Holmes, America’s first identifiable serial killer, who said, “I was born with the devil in me.” This idea, is only obliquely alluded to in the novel. Another title might have been more appropriate. I did enjoy a quote in the first couple of pages when introducing Kate. It came from the novel, Defending Jacob, which said that the key to being a successful prosecutor was to “Lure. Trap. Fuck.” I read and reviewed Defending Jacob in 2012 and loved it. Pleased to see Stahl quote that excellent novel.
Kate is a little hard to like. Tess, even less likeable. Actually, there are not very many likeable characters in the book. That may have been the intent of the author, but it made it hard to engage in the book at the beginning. Additionally, Kate is haunted by her past, but the reader is not helped to empathize with her past, horrifying though it was.
One of the things that I did like was that there were more action scenes than courtroom scenes. Sometimes legal thrillers can get stalled in the courtroom. Some authors I have reviewed try to show just how clever they are in the courtroom, and the reader is going, “Ho-hum!” Kudos to Stahl for staying out of the courtroom. I hope that as Stahl continues her series she uses her legal experience to probe more deeply into the political backdrop of her characters. That was part of attraction of The Devil’s Song. The Publisher’s Weekly reviewer liked the book. “Stahl keeps the reader on a roller-coaster ride with unexpected twists and turns to the end.”