There is something undeniable about the thrill of discovering an impressive new author with their debut novel, knowing that you are about to start an extended journey with this individual that could potentially span years. Readers will have that feeling when they pick up Speak of the Devil by Rose Wilding—a truly unforgettable work of fiction that feels more like the work of a seasoned veteran than a first-time writer venturing into the crime fiction genre.
Aficionados of crime fiction can hardly ask for a more gripping opening to a novel than that which is offered in Speak of the Devil. In a demolished apartment building on the top floor penthouse suite, seven women stand in a circle around the severed head of a man, with no body in sight. The life trajectories of each of these women was derailed in some tragic way by the evil machinations of Jamie Spellman (the dead man) and readers are quickly told that one of the women present killed him. But which one?
Rose Wilding’s strength lies in her ability to bring each of these women to life—giving them each point-of-view chapters—as they outline their various connections to Mr. Spellman. It makes for a miasma of time shifts that keep readers on their toes, but never loses them in the fog of temporal variance. There’s also an eighth woman—the detective investigating the crime—who is the impetus for several of the women telling their story. No doubt, it is a lot of characters to keep track of, but readers who invest fully will be justly rewarded by the conclusion.
At a time when the community is demanding diversity in their crime fiction, Rose Wilding has this covered—also proving that writers can craft characters beyond their own lived experiences as long as they do the research necessary to present them in non-stereotypical ways, free of unwarranted judgement and scorn. The seven women in Jamie Spellman’s sphere are racially diverse, they represent varied sexualities (lesbian, straight, bi), most are cis-gender, but there is trans representation, their ages vary widely, as do their backgrounds, and lastly they reflect different personality types—at least one of which is capable of murder.
Now Speak of the Devil could have suffered if these women all had similar conflicts with Jamie Spellman, however Wilding seems to have an inherent understanding of this, so the backstory for each woman is unique. We have relatives, coworkers, friends, and lovers—each of whom has a legitimate reason to want Jamie Spellman dead. The reader’s experience of figuring out which one did the deed is a bit like: “she should kill him,” “oh, she did it,” “how can she let him live,” to the eventual, “I’d like to kill him myself.”
Speak of the Devil is a gritty read—which should have been signaled by the dripping severed head on the table in the opening chapter. The list of trigger warnings that could accompany this novel include major topics like domestic violence, rape, humiliation, and self-harm, as well as less egregious ways of inflicting damage that under Rose Wilding’s writing skill and ability to craft tension hit equally as hard as the criminal mistreatments do. This is not a novel for the faint of heart, but again, those that can stick with it will find they are glad that they did.
Rose Wilding’s Speak of the Devil is easily one of the strongest debuts of the season and it will leave crime fiction readers anxious to see what she has to offer next.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.