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The Devil's Chaplain
"Brilliant... A highly entertaining mystery with a heroine as compelling as she is gutsy." -- Ken Bruen Disillusioned with her corporate legal career, attorney Charlotte Ambler volunteers to handle the final appeal of Christopher Ritter, a Florida death row inmate whose execution is imminent. Ritter had been a prominent biologist before being convicted ten years earlier for the brutal murder of a prostitute. He denies killing the woman but is tormented by guilt for other, secret transgressions. The only appeal he will allow is to prove that he is innocent—a kind of appeal which is almost impossible to win. As Ritter relates his sordid life story, Charlotte discovers that innocence is more complicated than she thought. He claims to have been framed by a shadowy figure named Craft, but as Charlotte studies the evidence she concludes that Ritter is a dangerous psychopath who should not go free. Then a piece of evidence turns up that confirms a key part of his story. Pursuing her investigation, she is thwarted by hidden forces that seem determined to see him executed. In a race against the clock, she searches for the elusive Craft and fights to save Ritter in spite of himself. THE DEVIL’S CHAPLAIN is a legal thriller in the tradition of Scott Turow and John Grisham – a gripping tale of deception and self-deception, betrayal and violence, in which lawyer and client find common ground in their quest for justice and human values. "A riveting story that hinges on clues so elusive that the tension is exquisite." - Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review
Midwest Book Review

Donovan's Bookshelf


The Devil's Chaplain

Bruce Hartman

Swallow Tail Press

Trade paperback edition, 9780999756409 $12.95

Library edition, 9781987490688 $12.95


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