Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 384 Pages, 4744 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
A Sultry and Lyrical Horror
The legend tells a tale of a mysterious and bizarre horror. The year was 1922; the place, a small township in Arkansas. It was a frigid night, a night when snow blanketed the ground in a pristine carpet...a night when a man was jerked out of a sound sleep by what he first thought was a gunshot. When the sound came again, icy fingers of fear raked dissonant shudders down his spine and he realized that the loud, metallic noise actually sounded like a heavy footfall...on his roof. As he rushed from his house in the dead of night to investigate, he hurried out into the snow and was aghast to see footprints...of a sort. Easy to identify, impossible to understand, cloven hoof prints were everywhere. Everywhere. On his roof, across his porch, over his yard, down to the river and on the other side...everywhere he looked were the unmistakable signs of something unholy stalking the earth.
Seventy years later, those marks returned on and around the mutilated body of a sixteen-year-old girl. And this was no legend.
Sarah DeLaune was thirteen years old when she stumbled back to her house, covered in her sister's blood, unable to speak of the horror she'd witnessed. In the fourteen years since that monstrous, tragic night, Sarah had lost so much, including her memories of that night, the ability to sleep without drugs that kept nightmares from decimating her soul, and, she feared, her sanity.
Now making a living as a tattoo artist in New Orleans, she was as skilled as she was damaged, heavily scarred by what she'd seen, whatever it was. Then came the night that her ex-boyfriend, homicide detective Sean Kelton, called to ask her to visit the scene of a grisly crime, one that had so many similarities to her sister's murder that there was little doubt the murderer was one and the same.
With one glimpse of the fresh ink scrawled across the victim's back, Sarah is chilled to the marrow. Something, some tiny something in the hideous desecration that had been a young woman brings back a distant shadow of a long gone memory, a sense of old knowledge that almost shoulders its way back to consciousness. With it comes fear and self doubt, and the horrifying realization that there may be one very good reason the memories of her sister's murder are gone.
For fans of dark southern mysteries and thrillers, you can't do much better than The Devil's Footprints. Stevens has penned a stylized narrative that sweetly seeps a Gothic lyricism so poised and powerful that it can rip readers from their coziest reading nooks and thrust them into the humid and verdant Old South with such force that the heady scents of night-blooming jasmine and magnolia waft from the pages of their books. The plot is a wretched, twisted, and well laid reflection of family secrets and childhood disappointments, of psychosis and rage; a haunting, haunted epitaph for long-dead and newly-joined ghosts.
Main characters Sarah and Sean are deeply flawed and more human for those flaws. Complex and conflicted, frustrating and sympathetic at turns, they are ultimately believable, if not always likable. Sarah's traumatic childhood is the impetus for the plot, and there is a lot of meat in that backstory, though told with a miserly hand to keep readers guessing. As the book progresses and truths are slowly and carefully revealed, the tension takes a firmer and firmer grip, drawing into question everything from Sarah's obsession with her sister's murder to the deranged wickedness of ancient evil. This is a totally creepy and thrillingly atmospheric story that didn't disappoint in tone, plot, or pacing. There was just so much done right in this book that it's hard to be objective on the points I most favored.
Not everything totally worked for me, though. Every once in awhile I felt the conflict between Sarah and Sean was a bit too contentious, that it boiled over into the investigation and the hunt for a killer and spawned petulant behavior, most noticeably in Sarah's case. I was also bemused by Michael's backstory. It was interesting, but it had no consequence or bearing on the plot, nor was fleshed out enough to add any weight to his character, so it seemed superfluous.
A couple of other secondary characters, Sean's partner in particular, were sadly underused. Danny LeJeune wasn't even a footnote after the first third of the book. I would have preferred he be utilized more and Michael less, because I had some problems with Michael's lack of patient confidentiality during his meeting with Sean. I would have liked to see the book stick a little closer to a police procedural in some places, so Sean was saved from occasionally seeming like an obsessed loner cop with his own agenda who relied on too-convenient psychiatric insight to solve his crime.
None of those minor complaints, however, detracted from the weighty beauty of the prose or the taut thrill of the horror, nor diminished in any way my appreciation for Stevens' writing style. Between this book and The Restorer, I have become a greedy fan intent on catching up on all the books I've missed. Decadent and delicious, they go down easy and strike deeply, and stand apart from the masses, as proud and stately as the moss-draped live oaks that populate the south...and just as imposing in the dark.