Minette Walters,
The Devil's Feather
(Pan, 2006)

This is the best thriller that I have read this year and yet, looking back on it, I find it hard to describe as a mere thriller. There are certainly thrills, tension and crimes, but there is more. I normally despair upon books or films that constantly jump backward or forward in time, but by the sheer power of her narrative author Minette Walters had me seesawing in time without even noticing it.

The book concerns Connie Burns, a war correspondent who suspects a mercenary of involvement in rapes and murders committed under the guise of war. At first I was wary of this, because war books are not my forte. Within a few chapters we are away from Iraq, having set up a magnificent scenario for the story.

Burns is kidnapped in Iraq, released and immediately flies to England, where she sets up home in rural Dorset. Into this landscape Walters decants some wonderful characters -- as she does in all her novels. Jess Derbyshire is a character that would have been a caricature in less able hands. Her story is handled beautifully and she meshes just perfectly with our heroine. Other village characters and scenarios are handled with equal skill, avoiding cliche while still bringing us people we can identify with small-town life.

Like all thriller reviews, I do not want to spoil the fun of discovering the layers of devilish plot, so I will say little about how the story unfolds other than that it does so seamlessly and with you literally wondering as you turn each page.

Walters has done something else unusual with this book. Apparently two fans paid sums to charities for her to include their names as some of the characters. There's a novel fundraising idea.

It does not give the plot away either if I let you know that the title comes from a Turkish derivation meaning "woman who stirs a man's interest without realising it."

Walters has written about a dozen equally enthralling thrillers, and I have only two more to find and read.

by Nicky Rossiter
16 December 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.