Before the Devil Breaks You


By Libba Bray

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The Diviners are back in this thrilling and eerie third installment by #1 New York Times bestselling author Libba Bray.

New York City.


Lights are bright.

Jazz is king.

Parties are wild.

And the dead are coming…

After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that early claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough of lies. They're more determined than ever to uncover the mystery behind their extraordinary powers, even as they face off against an all-new terror. Out on Ward's Island, far from the city's bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten– ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.

With terrible accounts of murder and possession flooding in from all over, and New York City on the verge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister ghosts invading the asylum, a fight that will bring them fact-to-face with the King of Crows. But as the explosive secrets of the past come to light, loyalties and friendships will be tested, love will hang in the balance, and the Diviners will question all that they've ever known. All the while, malevolent forces gather from every corner in a battle for the very soul of a nation– a fight that could claim the Diviners themselves.

Heart-pounding action and terrifying moments will leave you breathless in the third book of the four-book Diviners series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Libba Bray.




Thick evening fog clung to the forlorn banks of Ward’s Island, turning it into a ghost of itself. Across the dark calm of the East River, the glorious neon whirl of Manhattan was in full jazz-age bloom—glamorous clubs, basement speakeasies, illegal booze, all of it enjoyed by live-fast-forget-tomorrow flappers and Dapper Dons eager to throw off their cares and Charleston their way into tomorrow’s hangover. On Ward’s, it was quiet and dark, just a fat fist of neglected land housing the poor, the addicts, and the mentally ill, all of the city’s great unwanted, kept well out of sight, the rivers separating the two worlds—the living and the dead.

Inside the gothic expanse of the Manhattan State Hospital for the Insane, in the common parlor on the third floor of ward A, Conor Flynn sat with his frail arms wrapped around his knobby knees listening to a radio program. It was called the Pears Soap Hour featuring the Sweetheart Seer, and it starred one of those Diviners, a young gifted girl who claimed she could read the secret histories of objects through her touch: “Now, don’t tell me anything about this watch, Mrs. Hempstead. I’ll divine its very soul tonight. Just you wait!

On Ward’s Island, that was called insanity. On the radio, it was called entertainment.

At the piano with the two missing keys, Mr. Potts, a cheery soul who’d murdered his mother at the breakfast table with a hunting knife, now plunked out a tuneless old beer hall song. Sad Mr. Roland worked his jigsaw puzzle with shaking hands. His shirt cuffs slid up, revealing the puckered scars running the width of each wrist. The squeak of a wheelchair announced an arrival to the parlor. Conor looked up to see a nurse wheeling in a newer resident, one of those shell-shocked veterans of the Great War. There were lots of broken men like that in the asylum—fellas who’d gone off to fight but hadn’t fully come back. A wool blanket covered the soldier’s lower half to disguise the fact that his legs ended at the knees, though Conor didn’t know why they should hide it.

“Here we are, Luther. Nice view from here,” the nurse said, patting his shoulder. “Bit of fog, but you can still see the river.”

Conor glanced toward the barred windows at the bruising sky and the distant steel arch of the Hell Gate Bridge. It would be night soon. Night was when they came.

The thought gave Conor the shivers, so he counted.

“One, two, t’ree, four, five, seven. One, two, t’ree, four…”

Mr. Roland squinted in his direction. It startled Conor and he lost his place. Now he had to start over. He flexed his fingers exactly three times and tapped the tips of his fingers to his forehead and lips, up and down three times, each in rapid succession. Then he counted to seven until it felt right, until the uneasy sentinels on watch inside his mind gave the signal that it was okay to stop. Counting kept him safe. There were rules: Seven was the best number. Threes were good, too, but counting a six was bad. He didn’t know why these were the rules, just that they were, and he followed them and had ever since he could remember.

“Evenin’, gentlemen!” The night attendant, “Big Mike” Flanagan, strolled into the common parlor, all loose gait and sharp smile. Mike had been a guard at the penitentiary on Welfare Island. He looked at all the patients as if they were guilty of some crime, and he had a habit of doling out his own sentences in secret slaps, trips, and pinches.

“What’s the matter, Mr. Roland? You’re jumpy tonight.”

Mr. Roland glanced over his shoulder toward the windows and the night pressing its ominous thoughts against the barred glass.

“What’s out there, then? You expecting something?”

“G-ghosts,” Mr. Roland said.

“There’s no such thing as ghosts, Mr. Roland.”

Mr. Roland reached for a new puzzle piece. “Tell that to Mr. Green.”

Big Mike gripped Mr. Roland’s shoulder in what might’ve seemed like a brotherly hold. Mr. Roland’s pinched face said it clearly was not. “Whaddaya know about Mr. Green, boyo? Eh? D’ya see what happened? Do you know how he got that razor? Tell me!”

“Told you: ghosts.”

Big Mike let go of Mr. Roland’s arm. “Aaah, what am I even listening for? You didn’t see nuttin’. I’ll be as loony as you if I keep it up. You oughta be careful, boyo. Faye talked about the ghosts coming through. Wouldn’t shut up about it. So Dr. Simpson took that thought right out of her head.” Big Mike tapped the tip of his index finger just above Mr. Roland’s left eye. With a meaty paw, he crumbled apart Mr. Roland’s hard-won progress on the puzzle. “Lunatic,” he huffed, and walked away.

In his head, where dark imaginings often spread their bladed wings, Conor imagined Big Mike’s blue eyes widening with surprise, the blood bubbling up at his throat where Conor had taken a razor to it. That was a bad thought, Conor knew. It scared him, and so he counted to seven several times, a penance of numbers, until he could feel safe inside his skin again.

Outside, the wind howled mournfully. By the window, the soldier with the haunted eyes moaned softly and kept his gaze trained on the ceiling. Conor often got feelings about people—who could be trusted, like Mr. Roland, and who was rotten, like Big Mike or Father Hanlon, who was dead now and Conor was glad of it. Conor had a bad feeling about the soldier, too. There were unsettling secrets swirling around him. Someone or something was chasing Luther Clayton.

“The natives are restless,” Big Mike joked to one of the nurses. He was standing just outside the common parlor in the long hallway lined with doorways that hid the patients’ cramped rooms.

“Oh, you!” the nurse, whose name was Mary, flirted back.

A razor. Blood at Big Mike’s throat. An animal eating him down to the bones while he screamed. One, two, t’ree, four, five, seven. One, two, t’ree, four, five, seven.

“D’you hear old Mrs. Liggett nattering on about ghosts now? Claims they’re all over the island, with more coming. ’Course, she also thinks she’s a bride and every day’s her wedding. Still. Awfully dark out,” Big Mike said. “Better let me walk you to your dormitory tonight.”

“I might do,” Mary said coyly. Her smile disappeared. “Why do you think they’ve been talking so much about ghosts?”

Big Mike shrugged. “We’re in a madhouse, whaddaya expect? Ooh. Stuffy in here, idn’t it?”

Big Mike stepped back into the common parlor and cracked open a window.

“D-don’t!” Conor yelled. Under the table, his legs shook.

Big Mike scowled. “What’s that, boyo?”

“D-don’t open it.”

“And why not? Stifling in here.”

“They can get in,” Conor said.

Mary looked worried. “Maybe we shouldn’t.…”

“Aww, go back to your countin’, why don’tcha, Conor?” Big Mike said. “Now, Mary, don’t let it bother you.…” He took the opportunity to put his arm around the pretty nurse’s shoulders.

At the piano, Mr. Potts’s fingers stilled for a moment on the sickly keys. Then his quavery voice sang a new song. “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile!” In his chair, the war vet twitched and whimpered in a way that made the hair on the back of Conor’s neck stand at attention.

What’s the use of worrying? It never was worthwhile,” Mr. Potts sang, really getting into it now. “So pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile!”

Luther Clayton’s head whipped in Conor’s direction, eyes wide, haunted. “Don’t let them in. They belong to him!”

And suddenly, Conor understood what had made him so uneasy about the soldier: He knew.

Big Mike hurried over to the veteran’s chair, Mary following. “Now, now, what’s the racket for, eh, Luther?”

“The time is now,” Mr. Potts said, resting his hands flat on the tops of his thighs. He stared out the barred windows, one open just a crack, open just enough. And now Conor could see it, too: the odd bluish fog rolling across the dark lawn like a magician’s best trick.

They were coming.

“The time is now, the time is now, the time is now,” Luther said, his voice escalating.

The door slammed shut. Mary tugged at the handle. “It won’t budge!”

“Ring the alarm!” Big Mike called.

The nurse pulled the string. “It isn’t working!”

The fog pushed in around the window cracks.

“What in the name of—” Big Mike’s voice cut off with a gasp.

The nurse screamed and Conor wanted to cry, wanted to wish it all away, but he didn’t dare turn around to look. He was waiting for the lady in his head to tell him what to do.


A curtain came down over Conor’s fear. His muscles relaxed. In his head, the lady’s voice guided him. Bear witness. He picked up the pencil. Behind him, there was the crack of overturned chairs and Big Mike crying, “No! Please, no!” and Mr. Potts screeching like a frightened monkey and Mr. Roland making sounds no human should make. There were the nurse’s terrified, pleading screams dying to a gurgle and Luther Clayton shouting, “The time is now!” till his vocal cords strained into hoarseness. Down the long hallway, running footsteps approached, though it was already too late. The tang of fresh blood fouled the air.

Onetwot’reefourfiveseven,” Conor murmured over and over, like a prayer, as he kept drawing.

The fog slipped back through the windows and stretched its arms around the edges of Ward’s Island, the lights of the asylum barely visible in the murk. There were terrible things waiting in that fog, Conor knew. And just before the door to the common parlor creaked open of its own accord—Strange, they’d say later, as if it had never been locked to begin with—before the alarms and shouting and cries rent the night—“Oh, sweet Jesus! Oh, dear god!”—Conor heard the whispers traveling through the fog like current along a telephone line no one uses much:

“We are the Forgotten, forgotten no more.…”


At five o’clock on a cold February afternoon, Memphis Campbell and his little brother, Isaiah, mounted the steps of the ramshackle Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult on West Sixty-eighth Street.

Isaiah peeked into the museum’s dusk-dark front windows. “Looks closed. Says it’s closed.”

Memphis pulled on his brother’s arm. “Quit it, now. You’ll get arrested for being a Peeping Tom.”

“Won’t, either. Say, what’s a Peeping Tom?”

“Something that gets you arrested,” Memphis said, opening the front door.

“You’re squawking at me for looking in the windows, and you’re just opening the front door and walking in!” Isaiah said, running to catch up.

“It’s okay. They’re expecting us.”

As they traveled the long hallway, Isaiah gawked at the museum’s many collections—the poppet dolls, the haunted ventriloquist’s dummy, the spirit photographs, and a slate used by mediums in their trances. He stopped in front of a painting of a root worker communing with a trio of wispy ancestors. Spooked, he ran to catch up to his brother.

“I thought we were gonna play ball.” Isaiah punched his fist into his catcher’s mitt. “You told Aunt Octavia—”

Never mind what I told Octavia. Isaiah, I mean that—don’t tell her about this.”

Memphis slid open a pair of impressive pocket doors, and he and his brother caught their breath at the majesty of the museum’s library. Dark wood shelves stuffed higgledy-piggledy with leather-bound books lined the walls on both the first and second floors. A grand spiral staircase connected the two. High above, a mural stretched across the long expanse of ceiling: houngans, shamans, and witches stood side by side with gray-wigged Founding Fathers against a backdrop of mountains, rivers, forests, and wildlife. America the Supernatural.

“Salutations, Campbell brothers!” a petite blond flapper called from a plump chair where she lay sprawled with her legs dangling over its rolled arm. Evie O’Neill. The radio’s famous object reader, the Sweetheart Seer. Evie spread her arms wide to acknowledge the others in the room. “Welcome to our merry festival of freaks.”

Memphis smiled nervously at everyone in turn. The museum’s faithful assistant, Jericho Jones, nodded from his spot at one of the long oak tables, where he sat with an open book. His large, well-muscled frame dwarfed the chair. Pickpocket Sam Lloyd warmed his hands at the limestone fireplace. “Hiya, fellas!” he called good-naturedly. On the tufted brown sofa, dream walker and spirit conjurer Ling Chan wore a wary expression. She sat very straight, her hands tugging at the hem of her skirt as if she could hide her metal leg braces. Beside Ling, freckled and friendly Henry DuBois IV seemed to be writing a new piece of music in his head, his fingers playing imaginary arpeggios across Ling’s crutches, which he cradled against his shoulder. Mabel Rose sat at the same table as Jericho, occasionally stealing glances at him. She had what Memphis’s aunt Octavia would call a “wholesome face,” which wasn’t a comfort to the girls on the receiving end of that euphemism. Mabel wasn’t a Diviner. She was the daughter of union organizers, and she spent a lot of her organizing skills on trying to keep her best friend, Evie, out of trouble.

That left only one other person in the room. Theta Knight smiled at Memphis, and his breath caught. “Hey, Poet,” she said in her deep purr of a voice. Her sleek black bob gleamed in the warm glow cast by the library’s Victorian chandelier. And suddenly, Memphis wasn’t thinking about the reason they were all gathered in a musty museum of the occult. He was only thinking about Theta and how much he wanted to be alone with her.

“Evenin’, everybody,” Memphis said, but his smile, radiant and hopeful, was for Theta.

“Memphis,” Isaiah said, nestling closer to his brother.

“This is my brother, Isaiah. Isaiah, meet everybody. Meet the Diviners.”

Ling cleared her throat. She nodded toward the mantel clock ticking toward quarter past five. “I thought this meeting was called for five o’clock. They’re late.”

As if in answer, the library doors slid open, and the museum’s director, Professor William Fitzgerald, entered, trailed by his partner in the paranormal, Dr. Margaret “Sister” Walker.

Will tossed his hat and hung his umbrella on the stuffed grizzly’s stiff paw. “I see you’re all here. Good,” Will said, patting his pockets for his cigarette case.

“Some of us were even on time,” Ling muttered under her breath.

“Don’t bite yet, cher,” Henry whispered. “Save it for the finale.”

“Good evening, everyone,” Sister Walker said, drawing all eyes as she perched on the edge of a leather wingback chair. She sat as still as a queen surveying her subjects and waiting to hand down judgment. Seeing Isaiah, Sister Walker smiled. She had a broad smile, gap-toothed and welcoming. “Hello, Isaiah. My, I think you’ve grown a foot since I saw you last.”

“Two whole inches. Auntie marked it on the wall. Gonna be taller than Memphis soon!” The brightness drained from Isaiah’s face. He turned to Memphis in a worried whisper. “I thought Aunt Octavia said we couldn’t have nothing to do with Sister.”

“Anything to do with,” Memphis corrected quietly. “And that’s why we have to keep this secret for now, Ice Man.”

Sam cleared his throat. “All right, Professor. We’ve waited long enough to hear this. What in the Sam Hill is going on? And what does it have to do with us?”

Rain spattered against the dusk-painted panes in a steady beat as Will lit a cigarette and pocketed his silver lighter. At last, he turned to the waiting assembly. “Evil has entered our world. A force from beyond. It is spreading across the country, getting worse by the day.” Will paused to exhale. “And we are the only means of stopping it.”

“Gee. And I was afraid this would be bad news,” Henry said after a moment of stunned silence.

“You’re talking about the ghosts,” Memphis said when he found his voice again.

“Like John Hobbes,” Jericho said.

“And Wai-Mae,” Ling added quietly.

“And whatever those monsters were down in the subways,” Sam said, leaning against the fireplace, arms folded at his chest. “Those things that wanted to eat us.”

“They had teeth. Very sharp, very unfortunate teeth. You never think about ghosts having teeth.” Evie shuddered. “I never want to think about it again.”

“Unfortunately, you will all have to.” Will’s deep voice filled the space as he paced the same few feet of Persian carpet, his cigarette dropping ash onto the rug. “This museum was built by the railroad tycoon Cornelius T. Rathbone. Cornelius was my benefactor for a time, and also my friend, for a time,” Will said with a note of sadness. “He was obsessed with the supernatural and he sank much of his fortune into investigating the mysterious and unexplained. He was particularly interested in Diviners. You see, his own sister, Liberty Anne, was a Diviner.”

Evie sagged further into her chair. “Must we have a spooky history lesson, Uncle Will? We already know about Liberty Anne.”

“Not everyone here knows the story, Evie,” Sister Walker chided.

“When Liberty Anne was a little girl, she wandered into the woods and was lost,” Will continued. “Two days later, she emerged from that same wood. Her hair had gone snow white. She spoke of meeting a funny man—a man in a tall black hat whose coat opened to show the wonders and frights of the world. She fell into a feverish state between waking and sleeping, speaking prophecy, which Cornelius dutifully recorded in his diary. Some of her future visions were thrilling; others were quite dark.” Will pulled hard on his cigarette and exhaled a cloud of smoke. “Just before she died, Liberty Anne warned of a great storm to come—a battle between good and evil, of a time when the Diviners would be needed. That time is now. We believe there is a tear in the world, a crack between our world and another dimension beyond this one,” Will said slowly, deliberately. “Our aim is to find out what we can about the man in the hat and the ghosts invading our world so that we can reestablish the balance between natural and supernatural, between the living and the dead—and to do it without causing a public panic.”

“Swell!” Sam clapped his hands together. “So, uh, how do we do that?”

“That’s what we hope to discover,” Will said.

“For a couple of folks who run a museum of the supernatural, you sure don’t know much,” Theta said.

“We believe by working on strengthening your gifts, individually and as a team, we’ll find the answer,” Sister Walker added.

“I’ve spoken to the dead plenty during my dream walks,” Ling said. “They ask me to deliver messages to the living. No one has said anything about a coming storm.”

“My mother did,” Memphis said rather suddenly.

Sister Walker’s brow furrowed. “She did? When?”

“It was around the time of the Pentacle Murders, when my power started coming back to me,” Memphis explained to the group. “I would sometimes see my mother while I was under a healing trance.”

Memphis stopped for a second to catch his breath. He still missed his mother greatly, and he’d never quite forgiven himself for not being able to heal her as she lay dying, riddled with cancer. She’d begged him not to try to heal her—Let me go, Memphis. You can’t bring back what’s gone. It was then that the man in the hat had appeared to Memphis and offered him a bargain if he wanted to see his mother again. Memphis cleared his throat and stared down at his shoes for a second. “Anyway. She, uh, she came to me in a vision and told me that a storm was coming, that we had to be ready for it. Another time, she told me to heal the breach.” Memphis shrugged. “I didn’t know what she meant by any of it.”

Memphis cast a glance Theta’s way. She nodded at him, gave him a little smile that he knew meant, It’s okay. I’m here.

“But Unc—Will. We got rid of Naughty John and Wai-Mae and those things in the subway.”

Will took three long strides to the table and grabbed a sheaf of newspaper clippings, holding them aloft. “These are mentions of ghost sightings from newspapers all across the country. These are not isolated incidents. There are hundreds of sightings.”

“So how come nobody’s talking about it?” Sam asked.

“It’s a big country. And not everyone is paying attention as closely as we are,” Sister Walker said. “These stories are on the back pages of small-town newspapers. When you talk about seeing ghosts, most people assume you’re either crazy or drunk or both. You don’t have to disprove someone’s claim if you can discredit the person saying it.”

Will stubbed his cigarette into an ashtray. “We should be glad that most people aren’t paying as close attention as we have been. It gives us time to work, to try to figure out what we’re up against before…”

“Before what?” Theta said.

“The last thing we need is a panic. Panic breeds danger.”

“How did these ghosts get here?” Isaiah asked, wide-eyed.

“Wait! Let me guess—you don’t know,” Evie said.

“We believe that somehow a door between this world and the next has been wedged open, allowing this new, more powerful ghostly energy to come into our world more freely,” Sister Walker explained.

“But there have always been ghosts,” Ling said again. “I’ve spoken to—”

“Not like this,” Sister Walker interrupted. “This is a new breed.”

“So what’s keeping this door open? How did it get left open? And why are these ghosts so powerful?” Ling pressed.

We don’t know!” Evie, Sam, and Henry said as one.

“But those are all good questions, Ling,” Sister Walker said.

“Say, I’ve got a question. How about you finally tell us everything about Project Buffalo.” Sam fixed his gaze on Will and Sister Walker.

Will sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose under his glasses. “We’ve told you,” he said wearily. “Project Buffalo was a program of the United States Department of Paranormal aimed at the study, registry, and possible recruitment of Diviners in the event we’d need their help in times of crisis. That’s all there is to tell.” Will lit another cigarette.

Sam’s anger rose. “I can’t help wondering why you’re both still here but my mother isn’t.”

“Your mother died of influenza, Sam,” Sister Walker said gently. “I’m sorry, but that’s the truth.”

Then how come I got a postcard from her eight years after her supposed “death”? Sam thought. “Well, if it’s the truth, it’s the truth.” Sam fought to keep the edge out of his voice. He watched Will and Sister Walker carefully, but their expressions gave nothing away.

“There’s nothing else to tell about our days in the department,” Will said.

“You sure about that?” Sam challenged. “’Cause if we found out you were lying to us for some reason…”

“I’m sure,” Will answered with an air of finality. “The important thing is to get to work as soon as possible.”

“I have a question,” Mabel said. “Where do Jericho, Theta, and I fit into all of this? We’re not Diviners.”

“Everyone can be helpful in some fashion,” Will said. “You three will be our research team. And we might need controls for our experiments from time to time.”

Theta’s cigarette stopped halfway to her lips. “Controls?”

“Yes. When testing certain powers, for instance. We need people who aren’t Diviners,” Sister Walker explained. “To gauge the effects.”

“Gee, I don’t know about that,” Theta said.

“You can look through the books and files for stories or histories that might prove helpful,” Will said.

“Like Liberty Anne’s unholy correspondence?” Jericho suggested.


  • Praise for Before the Devil Breaks You:

    * " [A] gripping, unsettling read that peels back the shiny surface of the American Dream. Like the ghosts facing the Diviners, Bray's novel has teeth."—Booklist, starred review

On Sale
Oct 3, 2017
Page Count
560 pages

Libba Bray

About the Author

Libba Bray is the #1 bestselling author of The Diviners, Lair of Dreams,the Los Angeles Times Book prize finalist Beauty Queens, the 2010 Printz Award-winning Going Bovine, and the acclaimed Gemma Doyle trilogy. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Learn more about this author