Book Review: That Old Devil Sin

Clementine “Q” Toledano has a lot going on. She’s trying to avoid a club owner she can’t help falling into bed with, keep control of her band while the trumpet player fights her for it and, simultaneously, work out how to get her best friend out of trouble with a dangerous Greek mobster. Again. When a woman is found dead after a Lundi Gras gig and Q’s friend is accused of the murder, she goes digging for the real culprit. But the secrets she uncovers might just put her on the hit list…

That Old Devil Sin is the first in a series of mystery novels by W. E. DeVore, all with Clementine Toledano (also known as Q) as the main character. It’s a fun read, and once it gets going it makes sure to keep the pace up, barring a few breaks for steamy sex scenes. Q is a bright, determined and highly entertaining protagonist with some very real trauma she has to come to terms with as part of the story. While some of the choices she makes are obviously only going to cause her trouble down the road, W.E. DeVore gives us the background we need to understand those choices, and Q’s actions and decisions consistently drive the plot forward, uncovering more and more pieces of the mystery she’s found herself wrapped up in.

Pete, the bassist and Q’s best friend, is a well fleshed-out character, as amusing as he is frustrating. Despite the circumstances under which he’s introduced, the affection and loyalty between him and Q is obvious and provides a strong emotional core to the mystery as it starts to unfold. The relationship between Q and Ben, the irrepresibly flirty club owner, is similarly well developed, although unlike the friendship between Pete and Q we’re getting to see this one built as the book progresses. Ben’s warmth makes a nice counterpoint to some of the more prickly characters in the story and, of course, he’s the second participant in the sex scenes that provide the breaks between Q’s attempts at sleuthing.

I won’t go into a lot of detail regarding the sex, although rest assured the book definitely does, but I have to say I thought it was brilliantly done. DeVore manages to make the scenes feel grounded in the story and relationship between the characters, so they don’t feel gratuitous, and there’s enough variety (physically, but also emotionally) in the scenes that it doesn’t feel like the same one copy-pasted to fulfill some kind of arbitrary erotica quota.

Most of the other characters didn’t get the same depth as the three I’ve mentioned already, which was fine for the most part as they didn’t have as much presence in or impact on the story, but some of the recurring characters I did find a little two-dimensional. Of Q’s bandmates, Tom gets decidedly more personality than Charlie, who’s mostly either angry or trying to get off with the nearest attractive woman.

The mystery is uncovered piece by piece, and mostly by deliberate action rather than mistake, making it satisfying to read. I did feel like the mystery took a bit of a backseat a lot of the time to the character development and relationship stuff playing out in the foreground, but this is where I have to confess that I really don’t read a lot of mysteries and so have only a foggy idea of what’s normal for them.

The setting is another real strength of this book. DeVore has a light touch with description, but every scene is somehow incredibly atmospheric, from the sweaty clubs to the streets of New Orleans, you’re completel immersed in the characters’ world.

I was definitely hooked by the story, and I enjoyed the read a lot. While not for younger readers, I’d recommend this to anybody who likes a touch of mystery with their romance, or a heaping of romance with their mystery. Anybdoy who appreciates tough-talking female protagonists and thoughtful character development. And anybody who wants to feel like they’ve spent an evening in New Orleans without leaving their sofa.

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