Sam Harper Crime Mystery Series
Reviewed by Harry Hughes, author of The Bait Shack
Literarily speaking, the murder mystery genre has been excavated so thoroughly that one wonders how any author, emerging or seasoned, might find a way to put new spin on the unrepentant dastards who commit crimes, and the noir characters, some pensive and some quick with the snappy one-liners, who solve them. How do writers distinguish themselves in a seemingly saturated market?
Ask Marta Stephens. With a website that highlights her own works (http://www.martastephens-author.com/) and another (http://murderby4.blogspot.com/) that welcomes new authors to her world of perps, molls and gumshoes, Marta knows how to put a fresh face on old caricatures. Her second novel, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, proves that there still exists much yellow-taped, cordoned off territory to be explored.
Detective Sam Harper (the protagonist in Stephen’s first novel, SILENCED CRY) of the Chandler Police Department in Massachusetts, is summoned out of bed on a freezing morning before sunrise to view a floater by the bay, the third tattooed teenaged male to wash ashore in weeks, each murdered by different means; bludgeoning, strangulation, and now this, a throat rendered open by what appears to be knife-play. Sure, there seems to be a link among the deaths but where are the clues? At this point, there are none.
And so begins Harper’s search for a serial killer. This kind of assignment is routine stuff to him, but in no way is he prepared for the journey that leads to the crime’s resolution. And here is where THE DEVIL CAN WAIT parts company with other novels of this genus. From a small city in Massachusetts, we are suddenly transported to Mitu, an equatorial republic of Colombia, South America, where we are introduced to Alejandro, badly beaten as a consequence of skimming drugs from a dealer named Lorenzo. Alejandro’s mother, Anita Salas tends his wounds while he ponders her fate. She is wanted by the military for the alleged murder of three priests from a local church who regarded her as a witch and devil worshiper. More worrisome, is her possession of an inscribed, black pearl ring believed to be prophetic and that is coveted by Lorenzo the drug dealer . . . and others.
The body count increases. We eventually meet Chandler Times reporter Jennifer Blake who receives a phone call from her former Professor of Anthropology, Gaylord Mittendorf. Apparently, he possesses some inside scoop about the origins of a certain black pearl ring in South America that is drawing attention of individuals not of the legitimate auction variety.
Where does all of this lead us? To the Vatican and a mesmerizing, centuries-long history of a corrupt and perverse papacy tied to the black pearl ring and ultimately to the serial killer whose handiwork we were introduced to at the book’s start. Where is Sam Harper and how is he linking these seemingly disparate events to the story’s exciting closure? You will just have to be patient and read THE DEVIL CAN WAIT.
Marta Stephens’ keen knowledge of forensics and her use of crisp dialogue and descriptive locales allow her to peek over the heads of other mystery writers in this overcrowded field. As Harper stands above the teenaged corpse, we can feel icy wind blowing over a snow-covered, New England beach. Alejandro struggles to sustain consciousness while a thug chauffeurs him through the jungle to his mother’s house, and we smell the jungle canopy steaming with rainfall and palpate our own face as Stephens describes Alejandro’s multiple head wounds. And finally, Sam Harper is not the caricature of a wiseguy, fast-talking urbane dick but is instead a believable police detective rife with character flaws and a doggedly determined persona. THE DEVIL CAN WAIT is a perfectly paced, 5-star read from beginning to end.
About the Author: Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (November 3, 2008)
SILENCED CRY (2007)Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book FestivalTop Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)
About the Reviewer: Author Harry Hughes is a veteran of both the Viet Nam War and the Woodstock Festival. He is an award-winning songwriter and Associate Professor of Psychology. Seven years of his life is documented in the National Book Critics Circle Award nominated book, HOMEFIRES by Donald Katz (Harper Collins Press, 1992). After being published in multiple professional science journals, Harry’s first short story, A RIVER TOO DISTANT, was published along with works by Edward Albee and Joseph Heller, in Hampton Shorts, Vol.3, 1998. His debut novel, THE BAIT SHACK, has been published by BeWrite Books and is scheduled to be released on October 28, 2008. A native Manhattanite, Harry now lives in Utah. His website is www.hughesauthor.net.