The Son of John Devlin

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Like his previous novel Code of Vengeance (1997), Charles Kenney’s The Son of John Devlin relies on his experience as a journalist familiar with crime. In this novel, he displays a knowledge of how the Boston Police Department works, and presents a fictional history of corruption in its middle and upper levels.

The main character is Jack Devlin, a detective-lawyer charged with uncovering corruption in the Boston Police Department where he works. John Devlin, Sr. had been a detective himself, and supposedly killed himself when Jack was nine-years-old because he was part of this corruption, receiving second-hand payoffs from bar owners in danger of losing their licenses.

Angry at his father for years, Jack turns up a letter from him, mislaid by the law firm he’d left it with. If he died, the letter was to be given to his son, and in it he admits to taking payoffs and says that, when he quit doing so, he was set up to divert the FBI from probing deeper into extortion in the department.

To exonerate his father, Jack researches the past, and to cleanse the BPD—for which he has the support and advice of Tom Kennedy, his father’s old partner and now deputy superintendent of the BPD—he pursues a set-up of his own. With the help of Emily Lawrence (a Federal prosecutor who becomes his girlfriend), his partner Del Rio (after the latter forswears his role spying on Jack for the criminals in the department), and Coakley (a lawyer- informant whom Devlin, Sr. had been kind to), Jack lures the corrupt veteran detectives in charge of payoffs into a morphine distribution scheme, which allows him to track the money by computer through philanthropic fronts and various foreign and domestic banks to the source of the BPD scam. He also finds out from a bar owner how his father was set up, and concludes from other sources that he did not kill himself but was murdered.

Even if Jack Devlin seems a bit too noble to bear, and the self-pity of other characters is confused with repentance, and the arch-villain is easy to detect early on, The Son of John Devlin provides a fascinating look into the workings of an archaic police department.