The Devil's Feather

The Devil's Feather

by Minette Walters


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A blistering new thriller about the horrors of war and the struggle to survive in the face of pure evil. Foreign correspondent Connie Burns is hunting a British mercenary that she believes is responsible for the rape and murder of five women in Sierra Leone in 2002. Two years later she finds him training Iraqi police in Baghdad. Connie is determined to expose his crimes, but then she is kidnapped and released after three days of unspeakable torture. Silently, she returns to England and attempts to isolate herself, but it soon becomes apparent that the horrors of the world and her own nightmarish past aren’t so easy to escape from.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307277077
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/17/2007
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.77(d)

About the Author

Minette Walters is the author of 11 novels, 2 novellas, and a number of short stories. Her work, which has received several major awards, has been published in more than thirty-five countries, and has been adapted for television to critical acclaim.


Dorchester, Dorset, England

Date of Birth:

September 26, 1949

Place of Birth:

Bishop¿s Stortford, Hertfordshire, England


B.A. in French, Dunelm (Durham University), 1971

Read an Excerpt

1I don’t know if that story was picked up in the West. I believe some interest was shown in South Africa, but only because rape and murder had been high on that country’s agenda for some time. I was transferred to Asia shortly afterwards, so I never learnt the outcome of the trial. I assumed the teenagers were convicted because justice, like everything else in Sierra Leone, was subject to economic restrictions. Even if the court went to the expense of appointing a public defence lawyer, confessions of guilt, with graphic details of how each victim was murdered, would attract a summary sentence.I know Alan Collins was troubled by the indictments, but there was little he could do about it when his request for an experienced pathologist was refused. He was in a difficult position—more an observer than an adviser—with less than two weeks of his secondment left at the time of Amie Jonah’s abduction, and the youths’ descriptions of their crimes effectively sealed their fate. Nevertheless, Alan remained sceptical.“They were in no fit state to be questioned,” he told me. “Amie’s family had reduced them to pulp. They’d have said anything the police wanted them to say rather than face another beating.”He was also troubled by the crime scenes. “I saw two of the bodies in situ,” he said, “and neither of them looked like a gang attack. Both women were huddled in the corners of the rooms with their heads and shoulders sliced to ribbons and defence wounds to their arms. It looked to me as if they were trying to protect themselves from a single individual who attacked from the front. A gang would have been slashing at them from all sides.”“What can you do?”“Very little. No one’s been interested since the youths confessed. I’ve written a report, pointing up the anomalies, but there are precious few doctors in Freetown, let alone forensic pathologists.” He smiled ruefully. “The thinking seems to be that they deserve what they get because there’s no doubt they were trying to abduct young Amie.”“If you’re right, won’t the killer strike again? Won’t that exonerate the boys?”“It depends who he is. If he’s a local, then probably . . . but if he’s one of the foreign contingent”—he shrugged—“I’m guessing he’ll export his activities elsewhere.”It was that conversation which increased my suspicions of John Harwood. When he was first pointed out to me in Paddy’s Bar—Freetown’s equivalent of Stringfellows—I knew I’d seen him before. I wondered if it was in Kinshasa in 1998 when I was covering the civil war in the Congo. I recalled him being in uniform then—almost certainly as a mercenary because the British army wasn’t involved in that conflict—but I didn’t think he’d been calling himself John Harwood.By the spring of 2002 in Sierra Leone he was dressed in civvies and had a bad reputation. I saw him in three fights while I was there, and heard about others, but he was never on the receiving end of the damage. He had the build of a terrier—middling height, lean muscular frame, strong neck and limbs—and a terrier’s ferocity once he had his teeth into someone. Most of the ex-pats gave him a wide berth, particularly when he was drinking.At that time Freetown was full of foreigners. The UN was coordinating efforts to put the country back on its feet, and most of the ex-pats worked for the international press, NGOs, religious missions or world charities. A few, like Harwood, had private contracts. He was employed as chauffeur/bodyguard to a Lebanese businessman, who was rumoured to have interests in a diamond mine. Once in a while the pair of them vanished abroad with heavily armoured cases, so the rumours were probably true.Along with everyone else, I tended to avoid him. Life was too short to get involved with loners with chips on their shoulders. However, I did make one overture during the six months I was there when I asked him to pass on a request for an interview with his boss. Diamonds were a hot topic in the aftermath of the conflict. The question of who owned them and where the money was going had been a bone of contention in Sierra Leone for decades. None of the wealth was fed back into the country and the people’s resentment at their grinding, subsistence-level poverty had been the spark which ignited the civil war.Predictably, I got nowhere near Harwood’s boss, but I had a brief exchange with Harwood himself. None of the local women would cook or clean for him, so most evenings he could be found eating alone at Paddy’s Bar, which was where I approached him. I said I thought our paths had crossed before, and he acknowledged it with a nod.“You’re bonnier than I recall, Ms. Burns,” he said in a broad Glaswegian accent. “Last time I saw you you were a little mouse of a thing.”I was surprised he remembered my name, even more surprised by the backhanded compliment. The one fact everyone knew about Harwood was that he didn’t like women. It poured out of him under the influence of Star beer, and gossip had it that he was in the tertiary stage of syphilis after contracting it from a whore. It was a convenient explanation for his aggressive misogyny, but I didn’t believe it myself. Penicillin was too freely available for any Westerner to progress beyond the primary stage.I told him what I wanted and placed a list of questions on the table, together with a covering letter explaining the nature of the piece I was planning. “Will you pass these on to your boss and give me his answer?” Access to anyone was difficult except through a third party. The rebel fighters had destroyed most of the communications network and, with everyone living in secure compounds, it was impossible to blag your way past the guards without an appointment.Harwood prodded the papers back at me. “No to both requests.”“Why not?”“He doesn’t talk to journalists.”“Is that him speaking or you?”“No comment.”I smiled slightly. “So how do I get past you, Mr. Harwood?”“You don’t.” He crossed his arms and stared up at me through narrowed eyes. “Don’t push your luck, Ms. Burns. You’ve had your answer.”My dismissal, too, I thought wryly. Even with a score of ex-pats within hailing distance, I didn’t have the nerve to press him further. I’d seen the kind of damage he could do, and I didn’t fancy being on the receiving end.Paddy’s was the favoured watering-hole of the international community because it remained open throughout the eleven-year conflict. It was a large open-sided bar-cum-restaurant, with tables on a concrete veranda, and it was a magnet for local hookers in search of dollars. They learnt very quickly to avoid Harwood after he hurt one so badly that she was hospitalized. He spoke pidgin English, which is the lingua franca of Sierra Leone, and cursed the girls vilely in their own tongue if they tried to approach him. He called them “devil’s feathers” and lashed out with his fists if they came too close.He was rather more careful around Europeans. The charities and missions had a high percentage of female staff, but if a white woman jogged his arm he always let it go. Perhaps he was intimidated by them—they were a great deal brighter than he was, with strings of letters after their names—or perhaps he knew he wouldn’t be able to get away with it. The less articulate black girls were easier targets for his anger. It persuaded most of us that he was a racist as well as a woman-hater.There was no telling how old he was. He had a shaven head, tattooed with a winged scimitar at the base of his skull, and the sun had dried his skin to leather. When drunk, he boasted that he’d been in the SAS unit that stormed the Iranian embassy in London in 1980 and the scimitar was his badge of honour. But, if true, that would have put him in his late forties or early fifties, and his devastating punches suggested someone younger. Despite the strong Scottish accent, he claimed to come from London, although no one in the UK ex-pat community believed him, any more than they believed that John Harwood was the name he had been born with.Nevertheless, if Alan Collins hadn’t made his remark about the foreign contingent, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that there might be more to Harwood’s violence than anyone realized. Even when it did, there was nothing I could do about it. Alan had returned to Manchester by then and the murders of the women had quickly faded from memory.I ran my suspicions past a few of my colleagues, but they were sceptical. As they pointed out, the killings had stopped with the arrest of the boys, and Harwood’s modus operandi was to use his fists, not a machete. The tenor of their argument seemed to be that, however despicable Harwood was, he wouldn’t have raped the women before murdering them. “He can’t even bring himself to touch a black,” said an Australian cameraman, “so he’s hardly likely to soil himself by dipping his wick into one.”I gave it up because the only evidence I could cite against Harwood was a particularly brutal attack on a young prostitute in Paddy’s Bar. A good hundred people had witnessed it, but the girl had taken money in lieu of prosecution so there wasn’t even a report of the incident. In any case, my stint in Sierra Leone was almost at an end and I didn’t want to start something that might delay my departure. I persuaded myself it wasn’t my responsibility and confined justice to the dustbin of apathy.By then I’d spent most of my life in Africa, first as a child, then working for newspapers in Kenya and South Africa, and latterly for Reuters as a newswire correspondent. It was a continent I knew and loved, having grown up in Zimbabwe as the daughter of a white farmer, but by the summer of 2002 I’d had enough. I’d covered too many forgotten conflicts and too many stories of financial corruption. I planned to stay a couple of months in London, where my parents had been living since 2001, before moving on to the Reuters bureau in Singapore to write about Asian affairs.The night before I left Freetown for good, I was in the middle of packing when Harwood came to my house. He was escorted to my door by Manu, one of the Leonean gate-guards, who knew enough about the man’s reputation to ask if I wanted a chaperone. I shook my head, but protected myself by talking to Harwood on my veranda in full view of the rest of the compound.He studied my unresponsive expression. “You don’t like me much, do you, Ms. Burns?”“I don’t like you at all, Mr. Harwood.”He looked amused. “Because I wouldn’t pass on your request for an interview?”“No.”The one-word response seemed to throw him. “You shouldn’t believe everything people say about me.”“I don’t have to. I’ve seen you in action.”A closed expression settled on his face. “Then you’ll know not to cross me,” he murmured.“I wouldn’t bet on it. What do you want?”

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From the Publisher

"Narrator Josephine Bailey, who has won several awards for her distinctive audio performances, perfectly captures all the nuances, fears and emotions of The Devil's Feather." —-Sun-Sentinel

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Devil's Feather 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
diane1947 More than 1 year ago
Im going to continue to finish this book however, Im finding it sooo slow unlike her other novels.
JessLucy More than 1 year ago
I LOVE Minette Walter's style of writing; it's so different from anything I've read before. She is possessed of a truly creative mind; her novels are so engrossing and psychologically thrilling. She stunned and fascinated me with this disturbing novel. Acid Row was the first book by this author that I read and I was hooked immediately. Other Walters favorites include: Acid Row, Disordered Minds, and The Shape of Snakes. If you like this author, you will probably also enjoy: Ruth Rendell (especially End in Tears, Not in the Flesh, and The Monster in the Box), Barbara Vine, (especially: A Dark-Adapted Eye, Anna's Book, the Brimstone Wedding, and A Fatal Inversion), Morag Joss and Tess Gerritsen.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The beginning of the book I found very interesting, and was quite excited about it but then.... well it took a turn into just another ho hum examination of the internal workings of life in a small English village. I found it to be very anti- climatic to a complex start. Just left me flat, and quite frankly bored. Kay Sumbawa Indonesia
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldnt put this book down. I think thats the fastest I have ever read a fiction book in my life! I would recomend it anyone who likes a good descriptive thriller!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A book that keeps you on the edge of you seat, one that I couldn't put down!!! I LOVE a book that get's me on the first page and holds me until the end!!! A MUST read for Walters fans!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had never read anything by this author before and now I feel compelled to read the rest of her work. I picked up The Devil's Feather and couldn't put down. I read it last year but I wanted to put in my two cents. It is a great novel and you will be delighted with it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A war correspondant in Sierra Leone investigates the brutal killings of three men and ends up being raped and brutalized by terrorists. Traumatized she returns to England, hiding from all almost inspite of herself she continues her into the man she believes responsible, a man she also believes is a serial killer. Criss-crossing with her investigation are scenes taken from newspaper headlines. As much Walters previous books were critical snapshots of Britain, The Devil's Feather highlights current international politics and humanitarian issues. Different from her previous books, more ambitious in its' scale perhaps, The Devil's Feather is a disturbing read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In Baghdad in 2004, thirty six years old Reuters' war correspondent Connie Burns is stunned when she spots British mercenary Keith Mackenzie training Iraqi police. She recognizes the instructor from an assignment in Sierra Leone two years before where she thinks he raped and killed local women. Irate that she plans to expose him, out of control Mackenzie abducts, tortures, and rapes the journalist before freeing her with a warning that he will always be near to provide her a second lesson.-------------- Connie goes into shock unable to tell anyone what Mackenzie did to her. Needing to mentally heal, she returns to her home in rustic Dorset. She makes friends though it is really that her neighbors Dr. Peter Coleman and fellow recluse Jess Derbyshire refuse to allow her to wallow by herself. With their help she begins to regain her self-esteem and equilibrium, hoping to prepare for when Mackenzie using some other name as he has in the past will come to reeducate her.---------------- As always Minette Walters provides an intense psychological suspense thriller that grips readers from the opening moments as the villain takes away a sense of purpose and freedom from the reporter. The tale never slows down as Connie tries to recover mentally from his assault while knowing deep in her soul he is coming for her which keeps readers in a state of anticipation awaiting their showdown. THE DEVIL¿S FEATHER is Ms. Walters at her tense writing best.--------------- Harriet Klausner
Figgles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting novel. I found the ending deliberately ambiguous (what did happen in the 30 minutes McKenzie was left bound and injured, did he escape and die in a cliff fall or did they put him in the well?) I think it is up to the reader to decide, the clues allow you to believe either way - revenge or destruction by his own perversity (there was a quote earlier in the book as to how you end up depends on what you do)? Do we believe what we want to believe about the characters? Is Minette Walters giving us the choice? In "The Ice House" she gives us a quote about revenge being wild justice that should be rooted out, is that what happened here? I don't find her writting great, but her ideas are fascinating and challenging. I will remember forever the quote from Thucydides - "The secret of happiness is freedom; the secret of freedom, courage" - and Alan Collins's father's addendum that "courage is about being scared to death and not showing it". I felt the 2nd storyline about elder abuse something of a distraction. Read it for the ideas!
richardgarside on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not one of her best - but good ednough by anyone elses standards.
Bookmarque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I admit that I decided to download this from because it was on sale and that I¿d liked other books from this author, not because of the description. I didn¿t even read it so when we¿re introduced to Connie, war correspondent in Sierra Leone, I cringed inwardly. My head just wasn¿t in a good state to be on the receiving end of a politically correct novel full of white guilt. There¿s a place for those novels that showcase the almost hidden atrocities committed in African nations, but I just can¿t take one right now. Luckily the author doesn¿t go there. Oh sure we get to understand a bit of the underbelly of reporting in war-torn countries, but it¿s not the focus and no one preaches.Connie herself is a bit of an enigma. I still don¿t know what drives her to her unconventional and harrowing profession. She is driven though and it¿s her determination to see a probable killer brought to justice that gets her into trouble. Her video recorded humiliation at his hands keeps her from talking and after her very short captivity she eschews her fellow journalists and goes into hiding under an assumed name.It¿s at this location that most of the action occurs. She meets Jess, a strange and dramatic neighbor who she immediately likes despite Jess¿s abrupt and somewhat rude behavior. She also meets Peter, eligible bachelor and local doctor. She doesn¿t like him so much and remains skeptical of his bona fides. She also meets the ostensible owner of the house and finds out she isn¿t what she seems. Like any good reporter, when she finds the edge of a mystery, she just has to pry it up and have a look. Although she is caught up in figuring out the family she¿s renting from, her obsessive worry over her captor coming for her again nearly consumes her. She¿s paralyzed by every noise in the unfamiliar house and constantly goes from door to window to door checking and re-checking locks. This part of the book seemed over long and melodramatic to me. The constant hand wringing and panic attacks got to be a bit much considering there wasn¿t any forward motion to go with them. The on-again-off-again relationship with Jess was good though and Madeline¿s deceptions. Despite Connie¿s precaution against being found, she¿s convinced he¿ll find her even though she¿s barely said anything to the authorities about how he is or what he did to her. Through emails the situation is revealed however and when he does come for her, she¿s more than ready. The ending is somewhat ambiguous although I¿m not so unimaginative that I think there could have been any doubt as to where McKenzie ended up.
smik on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When five women are brutally murdered in Sierra Leone, Reuters journalist Connie Burns comes to believe that the culprit is a foreigner whom she recognises as someone she met, under a different name, in Kinshasa. Two years later she recognises the same man in Iraq, again living under a different name. Voicing her suspicions to colleagues results in Connie being kidnapped for 3 days. When she is released apparently unharmed, she refuses to speak about her ordeal and returns to England, where she lives as a recluse in Devon. Connie decides to keep investigating the man, and he comes after her. I found this a difficult read. The story is told through emails and accounts given to others in interviews. As the reader I never felt included in direct disclosures and the events were never really narrated for my benefit. There are two major stories intertwined and by the end I was impatient for it to finish. I felt as my brain had been exercised enough.
ShellyS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a bit different than the usual Minette Walters book, not that they're all similar, but this one, at its heart, is not a mystery. The narrator knows what happened and she's revealing it damn slowly. The suspense comes from... but, wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.Connie Burns is a war correspondent. During her posting in Sierra Leone, she became convinced that a British mercenary is the man who raped and killed five women. Her efforts to prove it go nowhere, but two years later, when she sees him in Iraq, training local police, and using a different name, she resumes her pursuit of justice for his victims. Until she's kidnapped, presumably by one of the Iraqi terror groups. Upon her release, she claims she has no idea who her abductors were, then returns to England, where she retreats to a rural town and a rental house that's fairly isolated. But along with her demons, and her fears, she has to contend with a local doctor, and Jess, a neighboring woman lacking in social skills, but someone who isn't afraid to speak her mind. As Connie, living there under an assumed name, gets to know Jess, she gets drawn into the lives of Jess, the daughter of the elderly woman whose house she's renting, and the odd events that led to the elderly homeowner being placed in a nursing home. But this mystery, while compelling, is more a device to help draw Connie out of herself. If only her demons would let her. Because he's still out there, a threat to her parents, and to Connie, herself, unless she can find the will to fight back.Walters excels at psychological suspense. Her weaving in real events in Iraq gives this book a special sense of urgency, placing it more in the real world than most of her others. And yet, I can't consider this a mystery. It's simply a literary tour de force by one of my favorite authors.
joeltallman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm a big fan of Minette Walters. Saying this is not quite her best novel is the same as saying it's an excellent novel of psychological suspense.
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