And the Devil Laughed
By Carole Sutton
New Generation Publishing 2009
Reviewed by Randall Radic
In a sense, Carole Sutton – who is the author of the book under discussion – is a little like Jesus. During his First Advent, Jesus wandered around preaching a message of salvation. Whereas Carole – in her delightful first novel, Ferryman – preached a message powerful enough to convert this reviewer, who found crime-fiction distinctively boring, to the pleasures provided by a rollicking ‘who-dunnit.’ Furthermore, according to some, Jesus will return at the Second Advent and kick Satan’s butt. Taking a cue from Jesus, Carole decided to make a second appearance too. She’s back with another bang-up ‘who-dunnit.’ This one’s called And the Devil Laughed. And just like Jesus, it kicks ass.
The plot of the story goes like this: Hannah Ford is a policewoman trying to make a comeback from an emotional double whammy – the recent death of her husband and her own traumatic experience as a rape victim. She takes a job as an undercover cop in a small town, which, so the rumor goes is little more than a depot for drug smugglers. Hannah’s job is to determine if the rumors are true. When Hannah arrives at the town, drug smugglers are old history. No one cares about that anymore. What’s worrying them now is the rape and brutal murder of a local barmaid. It’s this intersection of hysterical trends that sends the story rocketing off with reckless dynamism.
When it comes to telling a story, Carole Sutton is the Mistress of Mechanical Advantage. For she knows just how to do it. She winds the story tight, then lets out a little slack so the reader thinks this might be a good time to take a breath. Just as the reader opens his mouth to inhale, she pulls the line even tighter, almost garroting the hapless reader with breathless excitement. And the Devil Laughed is the textbook example of the raw power of superb storytelling, which is a talent that can’t be taught or bought. It’s a knack. Either a writer has it or not. Carole Sutton has it!
Some novelists, of course, can tell a story, but where they come up short is in their dialogue. In other words, when the story’s characters speak, they don’t sound like real people. Instead, they sound like no-talent actors in a really bad horror flick, which was written and directed by some haberdasher from New Jersey, who got the job because his brother-in-law put up the money for the flick. It’s called ‘cultural dislocation.’ Which means the author has no ear for conversational idiosyncrasies. This literary disease is usually brought on by proximity. Proximity narrows perspective.
Hooray! Carole Sutton does not have the dreaded dialogue disease. She has DESH, instead. DESH is a musical term – diatonic elaboration of static harmony, also known as the major chord accompanied – appropriately – with a descending bassline. Which means her dialogue is life-affirming. Which is a fancy way of saying that when her characters speak, their speech patterns sound right. There is texture and streamlined organicism. Which means harmony in the conversational universe. And that translates into happy readers.
On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best And the Devil Laughed hit a factor five on the Read-o-Meter. Even if, like the reviewer, you think ‘who-dunnits’ function best as paperweights, do yourself a favor and read this book. Perhaps you, too, will have a religious conversion.