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Review: Loehfelm's 'Devil in Her Way' is a winner

"The Devil in Her Way: a Novel" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), by Bill Loehfelm

When we first met Maureen Coughlin in 2011's "The Devil She Knows," the petite Staten Island, N.Y., cocktail waitress was drifting through life, fearful that she lacked the gumption to ever become anything more.

But by the end of that noir crime novel, Bill Loehfelm's third, Maureen's confrontation with a mobbed-up politician who meant her harm had irrevocably changed her. Now, two years later in "The Devil in Her Way," we find her transplanted to New Orleans and freshly graduated from the city's police academy.

Like his creation, Loehfelm grew up in Staten Island and now lives in New Orleans, and his beautifully written novels excel at capturing the sounds, smells and rhythms of both places to perfection.

The action begins when Maureen and an older officer assigned to mentor her respond to a disturbance at an apartment building. There, she is punched in the face by a fleeing suspect, and the cops discover three guns and several pounds of marijuana inside.

But what draws Maureen's attention isn't the dope, or even the punch. It's a couple of loitering young boys who seem unnaturally interested in the proceedings. As she tries to learn what the boys are up to, she uncovers a criminal conspiracy that threatens their lives — and her own.

Maureen's inexperience gets her into trouble, but she's too spunky and determined to back away from the case — or from her ambition to get on the fast track to the homicide division. After what she'd gone through on Staten Island, she's not one to be intimidated.

Along the way we get to know Maureen's passive-aggressive mother, who disapproves of her move south, and ride along with Maureen's mentor, a seen-it-all veteran known as Preacher, who's so well-portrayed that he steals the show.

Post-Katrina New Orleans, with its thriving French Quarter, its still-ruined neighborhoods, its scandal-riddled police force and its often obnoxious tourists, has been the setting for a couple of outstanding crime novels, including James Lee Burke's "The Tin Roof Blowdown" and Sara Gran's quirky "Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead." Loehfelm's "The Devil in Her Way" measures up to that standard and then some.

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