The Devil's Chaplain
Swallow Tail Press
Trade paperback edition, 9780999756409 $12.95
Library edition, 9781987490688 $12.95 www.amazon.com
Christopher Ritter's time is almost up. He's a Death Row inmate slated for execution. His young, female, African-American attorney's only hope of staying his execution is a legal defense nearly impossible to achieve, made all the more complicated because Chris is more willing to admit his guilt in a range of matters outside of the crime he's accused of than to defend his own innocence.
What evolves in The Devil's Chaplain is more than a legal quandary or a story of justice: it's a tale of moral, ethical, and psychological challenges to individual survival and social systems; and in the course of following Christopher's convoluted logic and questionable experiences, the plot leads readers to think about the real processes of guilt, innocence, crime, and punishment.
On many levels, Christopher's case stands at the crossroads of pro-life and justice, representing the extreme edge of consequences for actions that challenge life itself. And what do Haitian refugee witnesses (people Chris is adamantly opposed to involving, even to save his life) have to do with matters?
A hornet's nest of possibilities and danger emerges as Charlotte embarks on a path that could save her client's life and stay execution, finding that the clues lead to a host of situations that, when taken together, help explain why her puzzling client is so reluctant to help her save his life.
And then, there's Charlotte's own challenges from the public as she defends someone who might be a deadly killer: "Save a life! God bless you!" one man shouted. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" yelled the puffy-haired blonde." The yin/yang of her actions and the juxtaposition of those who believe either side of the question of whether Christopher should live or die makes for engrossing passages that lead readers to consider their own values and the influences on life and death choices.
The Devil's Chaplain also provides a graphic moment-by-moment portrayal of a death row execution. On many levels, it's a read that challenges one's emotions and ethics even with the false comfort of a chaplain who is assigned to make the accused feel like a "collaborator in his own execution".
Readers of legal thrillers who like cases that are not cut-and-dried but filled with satisfying twists and much food for thought will find The Devil's Chaplain a powerfully-wrought inspection of not just legal processes, but social issues revolving around murder, redemption, punishment, and resolve. It's a thoroughly engrossing inspection that's hard to put down: a riveting story that hinges on clues so elusive that the tension is exquisitely drawn.
Diane C. Donovan, Senior Reviewer
Donovan's Literary Services