Bill Loehfelm. Doing the Devil’s Work. Sarah Crichton Books, 2015. 26.00. Stop by Faulkner House Books or call us to purchase your copy!
Bill Loehfelm’s newest novel, Doing the Devil’s Work, the third in the Maureen Coughlin series, is both thrilling and gritty, a story you will want to devour in one sitting, but which will stay with you for days afterward. Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, the book’s sense of place is created with hyper-realist precision. From an Audubon Park mansion to a Central City sidestreet to Coughlin’s own home in the Irish Channel, Loehfelm takes the reader on a tour of the city through the eyes of a cop who has recently moved here from Staten Island. Loehfelm includes a murder outside F&M’s, an interview at the Rose Nicaud, and a late night drinking at Ms. Mae’s, among other local markers. This book never lets you forget its setting, and locals and tourists alike will enjoy this gripping journey through what might be the closest thing to the real contemporary New Orleans ever portrayed in fiction.
In this installment of the series, Maureen has finished her police training and is finally a real New Orleans cop, but she is far from out of the woods. The department, and the city, is rife with corruption. They are understaffed, publicly disliked, and overworked, and these obstacles, as well as departmental politics and unwanted attention from the federal government after the 2013 consent decree, frustrate any neat solution to the murder mystery that begins with a dead body in an abandoned Central City home. Maureen finds herself torn between her instincts and a department that encourages her to stay out of it. And as an isolated murder quickly spirals into something much bigger, Maureen struggles to toe the line of police department ethics and politics while doing all she can to solve the crime.
Maureen herself is a character worth spending time with. She is both gutsy and empathetic, and her cop instincts are what drive this plot forward. Though she is no saint, Maureen is unphased by the social hierarchies of her newly adopted city, and her integrity is near unshakeable. As she says to her colleague, “The consent decree is going to change everything. That old-boy network stuff, that who-you-knew-in-high-school shit is going out the window.” Her New York attitude reflects the very real changes happening in a city that sometimes feels as if it being forcibly dragged into the twenty-first century, for better and for worse. And as a female protagonist, Maureen’s sharp tongue and tough attitude, not to mention her competence as a police officer, are nothing short of refreshing. Both her flaws and her virtues are realistic. Loehfelm is a master of characterization. He writes dialogue that is quick and witty, and from this dialogue spring dazzlingly realized characters.
From the police department, to the characters, to the city itself, this is a book in three dimensions: sparklingly real, never romanticized, never gratuitous. Doing the Devil’s Work is a highly satisfying read. My only regret is the wait for the sequel.