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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Speak of the Devil!

My next novel comes out this Tuesday, August 6th!  I’m so excited to share it with you.  It’s my best book yet.

Although SPEAK OF THE DEVIL won’t land in stores til next week, you can get a sneak peak now.  Click here to read the first three chapters.   Or (better yet) click on one of these links to buy the book:

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Let’s Meet in Person!

I’m going on a book tour.  If you’re near any of these cities, I’d love to see you.  It’s fun to interact on the blog, but would be even better to meet you in person!  Hope to see you at one of these events:

Tues. August 6 — 7:00 pm
Books-A-Million
31150 Southfield Rd, Beverly Hills, MI
Thurs. August 8  — 7:00 pm
Politics & Prose Bookstore
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC
Weds. August 14 — 6:30 pm
The Mysterious Bookshop
58 Warren Street, New York, NY
Sat. September 1 — 3:00 pm
AJC Decatur Book Festival
Panel with Marcia Clark
Downtown Decatur Square, Decatur, GA
Weds. September 18 — 6:30 pm
Enoch Pratt Free Library
400 Cathedral St., Baltimore, MD
Meanwhile, here’s me, wearing more eye makeup than usual, talking about the book.

Hope you’re having a great summer, and hope you enjoy SPEAK OF THE DEVIL!