MS-13, the real-life gang from SPEAK OF THE DEVIL

As a D.C. sex-crimes prosecutor, I dealt with some of the city’s most chilling crimes – but few were as frightening as those involving MS-13, which National Geographic calls “America’s most dangerous gang.”

Also known as the Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13 has mushroomed from a small band of L.A. thugs into an international organization with an estimated 50,000 members and cliques in almost every major American city. They kill for fun, throw parties for the purpose of raping their female guests, and coerce their girlfriends into becoming prostitutes. The gang actively recruits middle-schoolers – and never lets members walk away. In the last decade, MS-13 has become so violent, powerful, and brutally misogynistic, the FBI created a task force solely to fight them.

As a prosecutor, I handled many cases where victims of haunting MS-13 crimes refused to testify, for fear of gang reprisals. “Speak of the devil and he will appear,” one survivor said. Often, my biggest challenge wasn’t legal maneuvering but persuading witnesses that talking about evil is necessary to defeat it.

These cases inspired me to do extensive research into MS-13 for my third novel. I spoke to police officers and federal agents, and drew on my own experience prosecuting these crimes. In SPEAK OF THE DEVIL, I try to provide an authentic glimpse into the shadowy world of the Mara Salvatrucha: what tempts so many kids to join, the bonds and secret rituals that keep them coming back, and why it’s nearly impossible to quit.

Much of my novel is drawn from elements of real MS-13 cases: Gang members pimping out fourteen-year-old girls at construction sites; a police raid on a brothel that coincided with a machete-wielding MS invasion of the same brothel – and the resulting battle; and a teenage girl murdered by her MS lover when she tried leave the gang and go into Witness Protection.

While SPEAK OF THE DEVIL is a crime story, it is also the story of a young woman coming into her own, finding her place and power in the world. Anna Curtis is a young D.C. prosecutor basking in the love of her life even as she conducts the tireless, sometimes frightening work of prosecuting MS-13. This is my third Anna Curtis book; she and I have grown and evolved with each other over the last few years. I’m so honored and gratified by how much she has resonated with readers.

Although SPEAK OF THE DEVIL deals with dark themes, I think it is ultimately a hopeful story: about how far we’ll go to protect our families, the power of redemption, and the ways that love can prevail over violence.

I hope you’ll enjoy it.

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  1. TokoBali says

    I just did a whole essay on MS-13. Scary bunch. There’s also a brilliant film about MS-13 and its influence on illegal migration in Mexico called Sin Nombre. Check it out.

  2. TokoBali says

    Haha, no MS-13 in the Netherlands. We don’t have a gang culture, except for bikers and a couple of knuckleheads who call themselves Bloods (nothing like the LA gangs though). I actually study American studies, so I’m more occupied with the US then with NL. I wrote it for a course on migration; MS-13 is both created by migration (members were deported after the gang scare following the Rodney King riots, elevating a small time LA gang into an international network) and has migration as its core business in Latin America, robbing, kidnapping and raping Central American migrants traveling through Mexico. It’s gruesome but fascinating stuff. Sin Nombre actually gave me the idea for the essay.

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