***Devil in the Grass


(photo: heymeadow, creative commons license)

By Christopher Bowron – This debut thriller is an ambitious mix of Florida politics, Satanic cults, Seminole tradition, and alligators. And a bull shark. Author Bowron is clearly familiar with the southwest Florida setting, which he describes expertly, bringing the story to vivid life.

The Florida Everglades is home to any number of dangerous predators, including humans of the sort who don’t mix well with civilization. The 9-foot tall sawgrass that gives the Everglades its nickname—River of Grass—provides Canadian author Bowron’s inspiration for the book title as well as superb cover for his characters as they ply their small boats through its waters.

The impetus for the plot is also grounded in real life: the ongoing political battle between those who want to save the Everglades as a unique and irreplaceable natural resource and the agricultural interests making vast fortunes growing sugar cane and raising cattle along its edges. In Devil in the Grass, former pro football player and half-Seminole Jackson Walker works as an intern for Republican State Senator, James Hunter, who supports Clean Water legislation. Walker, in his mid-20s, meets and falls for a woman working for the state Republican Party. She seeks him out, seduces him, and gradually exposes him to the Satanic cult called The Brotherhood of Set.

After a while, Walker does what he believes will be an innocent errand for the cult leader, and at the book’s opening we find him hiding out in Big Cypress Swamp, accused of slaying a man and woman in a Satanic ritual. Although he believes he’s being framed because of his work with the Senator, letting himself become soft and apathetic may have contributed. He regrets the demise of his football career and its heroes: “It was the fearlessness with which they marched onto the field that had mattered to him.” Inevitably, Walker will be called upon to demonstrate that same fearlessness before the book’s last page.

If the leaders of the Satanic cult weren’t creepy enough, they have for generations used a particular local family—the McFaddens—to be their clean-up crew. They are prone to torture and killing, and they let the vastness of the Everglades hide the evidence. I’m a little burned out on serial killers with chain saws, but the alligators make for heart-pounding excitement.

As the story gets rolling, not only the police, but also the Satanists and their instruments, the McFaddens, are after Walker. And don’t forget the gators.

The book clearly ends with the promise of a sequel, which I hope can make the bad guys as believable as the environment and that Bowron gets a little help with dialog. I’m not sure when this novel takes place, but if Buck Henderson’s “old Cadillac” was manufactured after 2002, it has a trunk release lever. And I ardently wish he hadn’t laid Jimmy McFadden’s psychotic behavior at the door of “severe autism.” Scientific study has failed to link the two.

A longer version of this review appeared on CrimeFictionLover.com.