June 15, 2010

The Devil Returns

DeVonte Lutrell, the “Mr. Right” Marti MacAlister’s friend Sharon married in Whispers in the Dark, and who almost killed her and her daughter Lisa, returns to again terrorize Sharon in the twelfth Marti MacAlister novel A Cold and Silent Dying.  

Lutrell has gone from killing wealthy women after swindling them to killing homeless women while he tries to get money he feels Sharon owes him before he exacts revenge on her, her daughter, and Marti.

In the opening, he calls Sharon and tricks her into believing he has Iris, Marti’s sister-in-law from her marriage to Johnnie MacAlister, and Iris’s eight year old daughter Lynn Ella and will kill them if she doesn’t do what he tells her. He found Iris, who left home at an early age and was never seen again, living in an institution for recovering addicts. Her older daughter has been adopted. Lutrell bought Lynn Ella from her foster mother, and she lives in his apartment in Chicago.

The woman on the phone to Sharon is homeless. He kills her and leaves the body along with another one he has killed in an empty house next to Deer Woods in Lincoln Prairie. Detective Marti MacAlister and her partner Vik Jessenovik enter the case when the two bodies are found. Fred Reskov, a Desert Storm vet who sleeps in the Deer Woods, becomes the prime suspect when they learn he was in the house and has blood on his clothes. He is unable to explain the blood because of his alcohol-dulled memory. As he gradually regains his memory of that night, he remembers seeing two dead bodies in the house and a Black man leaving.

Fred doesn’t tell Marti and Vik right a way what he saw because he realizes that something is wrong with the water in Deer Woods and decides to confront Karl Wittenberg, the owner of Deer Woods. The second villain is thus introduced in the subplot. Wittenberg’s family has owned Deer Woods for many years. When he was a boy, his father dumped old car batteries and engine oil in the woods. Realizing Fred might know about the hazardous waste in Deer Woods, he bails him out of jail. The Deer Woods situation leads to the first dramatic moment in the novel when Fred confronts Wittenberg, who has a loaded gun in his hand. You know I’m not going to reveal what happened between them.

The main conflict between DeVonte, Sharon, Lupe, Vik, and Marti ends in thriller fashion in a cemetery in Chicago.

An exciting addition to the Lincoln Prairie police force is Lieutenant Gail Nicholson, who “could have passed for white were it not for her chestnut brown skin.” She takes over as supervisor when the former supervisor, Lieutenant Dirkowitz, is promoted to deputy chief after the chief is killed in a boating accident. What makes her addition exciting is the immediate antagonistic relationship between her and Marti.

From Marti’s perspective, “Nicholson would be just another black female cop who outranked her unless she discredited or got rid of Marti, or gained her own rep, or both.”

Nicholson feels that Marti, “After all the years on the force, ten years working the streets of Chicago...still believed in that stupid motto, To Serve and Protect.” For Nicholson, Police work is “a job, not a vocation.

“And it was a job that would be done her way by everyone on her watch. She was in charge here, not Marti MacAlister.” She never says a harsh word about or to Vik.

Bland attempts to make us sympathize with Lutrell by having him grow fond of Lynn Ella, whom he thinks may be some kind of conjurer. In his backstory, we are to believe his mother made him do it. But the only feeling I had for him is fear--he is the type of villain who keeps you reading, though you dislike him and fear for those he menaces. And you know he will lose, the only question is how.

A Cold and Silent Dying is the best plotted novel in the Marti MacAlister series thus far. In the previous novels, the subplots sometimes had only a tenuous connection to the main plots. Using Fred as a linchpin, Bland skillfully weaves together the main plot and subplot in A Cold and Silent Dying.

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