Sometimes you walk past a bookshop and do a glorious double-take. You moonwalk back to the display window and peer in to check if your mind was playing tricks on you. When you see that it wasn’t—when indeed it seems that one of your favourite authors HAS A NEW BOOK OUT—the kick in your step and Wheeee! in your heart is second to none. And that’s just how I felt when I strolled past my local story-dispenser to see that Jeffery Deaver had a new Lincoln Rhyme novel on the shelves.
J is for Jeffery. And you probably know by now that he is my commercial thriller writer of choice. You can take your Pattersons, Reichs, Cornwalls, your Ludlums. I like my thrillers from an ex-lawyer, ex-folk singer chap who, sure, could do with a hair cut, but who mostly keeps me entertained and enthralled from go to woah.
The Burning Wire is a new novel featuring Lincoln Rhyme, the quadriplegic ex-policeman forensics expert who is a quick-minded, pedantic, workaholic scotch-drinker with a gruff exterior, who prefers solving a mystery to the company of people. Take away the cherry-red wheelchair and he sounds just like your usual loner detective. But the wheelchair and the character’s physical disability do serve to add extra layers of difficulty (complexity from a plot point of view) when it comes to discovering the unsub, to catching the perp. One of the most interesting things about Lincoln is how his being physically crippled isn’t usually what prevents him from catching the killer or indeed living a full life; rather there are emotional and psychological barriers he has trouble ‘stepping’ over. Yes, that speedy wheelchair represents more than just a means for our hero to get around.
I like prickly Lincoln. I like that while fulfilling the hero role and doing all the ‘good’ things our protagonist-detectives are supposed to do, he is still a sarcastic bastard; barking orders and correcting his underlings’ grammar, automatically dismissing anyone who shows signs of sympathy for his condition, demanding tumblers of aged scotch from his put-upon-but-unflappable aide, Thom, at all hours of the day. His select crew of colleagues (which includes his beautiful partner Amelia and some old police friends) forgive him his foibles for they know that deep down he is a good man, dedicated to righting wrongs, to putting the bad guys away. I, though, don’t particularly care about this. For me it’s Lincoln’s brilliance which allows my acceptance of his being a superior, impatient, cranky arse. The man has a mind like a steel trap, a complex existence, he indulges in the occasional death-wish and has an appreciation for high-quality highland liquor. That’s why I like him.
An advantage of having a disabled protagonist somewhat restricted to his Manhattan brownstone, is that we readers get to discover a lot about the supporting characters in the Rhyme stories, maybe more than we might in other crime novels. One such player we get to focus on in The Burning Wire is FBI agent and undercover wunderkind, Fred Dellray—a wonderful ‘character-in-a-supporting-role’ if ever there was one. In fact, Deaver does a fine line in supporting characters: from Dellray, to Amelia—Lincoln’s partner and our co-protagonist, to ballroom-dancing Mel Cooper, crumpled Lon Selitto, American-pie Ron Pulaski and Thom the aide, to name a few. Deaver knows how to write intriguing, layered, entertaining characters who flesh out his stories. And, cleverly, they help maintain a strong connection with his readers across the different books. Every now and then you’ll be reading a Rhyme novel and a character from a previous story will pop up and the reading-you will give a little cheer at their appearance (or a nervous whimper like I did in this novel when a previous foe turned up). If that’s not a strong sign of reader-and-writer loving, I don’t know what is.
In this novel, our bad guy is using electricity to bring New York to its knees.
Electricity you say? That thing wot makes the lights turn on? Not exactly a deranged axe-murderer, is it? Isn’t this something the local utilities supplier could deal with? These are the disloyal thoughts I had while reading the blurb.
But have a quick look about you and count off the number of things your surrounded by that run on electricity. Oh and then the number of things which can conduct it. This insano is creating flashes and electrical arcs that are metres long, electrocuting entire people-filled hotel lobbies, threatening to black out the city and cause chaos. How do you process evidence when the weapon can’t be examined in a lab? How do you stay safe when you can’t see the thing that’s rigged to kill you? Should you turn that kettle on? This case has Lincoln and Amelia stretched to their investigative limits and our pal Fred Dellray risks everything to try to catch the perp. So much so that it’s unclear whether he’s going to come out of it clean. If he, and the rest of them, can survive.
The Burning Wire is not the most thrilling Deaver novel I’ve read, but it’s still strongly plotted, character-filled, entertaining, heart-rate rising, solid Jeffery. I impatiently await the next book (which if running to plan will be a new Kathryn Dance novel next year). If you haven’t read Deaver before you should start with The Bone Collector. Start at the beginning and meet Lincoln and Amelia (and Fred and Thom and Mel and Lon) for the first time. You’ll find yourself hooked. You’ll work your way up to The Burning Wire and then the next time your ambling past your local book-supplier and you see a new Deaver in the window, you too will have a spring in your step and a song in your little crime-loving heart.
One sign of a good storyteller is that their readers are able to forgive them some ‘failings’ in light of their vast strengths. So in an odd topic for this blog, I’m going to tell you what bugs me about one of my very favourite storytellers, using the protagonist in this book as an example.
My preferred thriller writer is freed from the pile for the second time this year, with his second novel in the Kathryn Dance series, Roadside Crosses (though it’s her third apperance in one of his books). To be honest, this book was only in the pile for about a week. Mr Deaver does not hang around gathering dust.
Who is Kathryn Dance? As discussed in the very first pile o’ books entry she is a kinesics-expert-CBI-agent (that’s the Californian Bureau of Investigation) who catches the bad guys through her startling ability to read people in equally powerfully intuitive and scientific ways. As the shoutline echoes across the cover, Kathryn Dance is a Walking Lie Detector. The goofball in me wants to make some quip about those damn useless stationary lie detectors…
I’m not sure how to say this without it sounding like I’m disparaging one of my fave authors, but a lot of Mr Deaver’s characters are a little, well, daggy. I mean, obviously they’re pretty awesome with their whole crime-solving abilities and often for the personal tragedies they’ve overcome (Lincolm Rhyme is a quadriplegic, Kathryn Dance is a young widow raising two children) and a lot of his characters are endearing in their individual ways. Plus they’re not all dags; I love Fred Dellray in the Lincoln Rhyme novels and he is very cool (in movie versions he should be played by Samuel L. Jackson). I don’t know what it is but there’s just something kind of ‘suburban’ about many of them. Maybe it’s just his writing style and the way he puts his enormous amount of research to use. Maybe he tells us a tad too much about them when our imaginations would work better. Maybe he tries too hard to keep the trappings of characters contemporised and therefore dates them once they ‘drive off the lot’. I haven’t managed to put my finger on it yet.
Here are the five things that miff me about Kathryn Dance:
1. It seems to me a lot of his female characters wear hairstyles and clothes which conjure up a guest appearance on Murder, She Wrote. Again, this isn’t a real criticism, I love that show (Jessica Fletcher is second only to Miss Marple for top amateur sleuths). But his descriptions bug me; blouses, tailored pants, french braids, ‘labelled’ clothing, I’ve never been comfortable with Kathryn’s glasses (she wears a pretty pink pair most of the time but when she has to go in for the kinesic kill she puts on her ‘predator’ specs which have severe black frames). I just want one of his characters to be caught out in a pair of dirty jeans, thongs and an old pearl jam t-shirt and not because they’re some wannabe rocker, just because that’s what people wear.
2. I find her shoe fetish to be a cliche.
3. Kathryn, who is a fit, attractive, healthy cop, is always eating half a donut or weighing up the pros and cons of eating one of her assistants homemade baked goods. EAT THE DAMN COOKIE, KATHRYN.
4. Her kids are too well-behaved, especially when they’re Dad’s dead and they’re Mum’s a workaholic.
5. The whole attraction to her married (although will he be for long?) friend, Michael, is just going to cause problems, never eventuate and probably mean that that nice man who has the hots for her in this book will have to leave or have something horrible happen to him. Or something horrible will happen to Michael.
Phew. Got it out. I feel better now. These minor annoyances won’t stop me reading any future Kathryn Dance stories. That’s the thing about Deaver. Yes, his characters are a little daggy and I think sometimes he puts in too much of his ‘hip’ knowledge (the ins and outs of blogging dominate this book, we get an explanation of LEET speak) but I’m happy to put up with this, in fact, I expect it and accept it as part of his books. And this minor criticism aside, I still find Mr Deaver’s books fascinating, compelling and thrilling. I thought finally, I had caught on to the killer early in the book, but as usual I was so wrong and had no idea until the author wanted me to know. I have never picked the ‘doer’, I’m usually completely shocked by the events and results, I get a little scared, a little thrilled, there’s the odd giggle and I’m always impressed by the twists and turns. And I care about the characters and I especially like and love the recurring ones – in all their crime-solving, daggy glory.
A good way to start is with one of your favourite authors. I read The Bone Collector* when I was at university and since then I have read all of Deaver’s novels – both the character series (Lincoln Rhyme, Location Scout and Rune) and the standalones. The Bodies Left Behind is his latest work and it’s a standalone focusing on a deputy’s escape from two killers through a deserted forest. Good ol’ Jeff gives a rundown on his website.
When Jeff was last in Oz a couple of friends and I went to see him at a local library. The crowd ranged from us diehards to a few old nannas who hadn’t read his books but probably go to those sort of things for entertainment. He was fantastic and believe me I know how un-fantastic authors can sometimes be. He was very aware of his craft, able to speak of it in an interesting and authoritative manner, and he was funny and smart and gracious. When I gushed at him about my distress at having to choose which book for him to sign, he told me that next time I had to bring ALL of them – now he and I know that’s over 20 books, and granted we’ll probably never meet again, and the ‘next time’ comment may have been somewhat confident, but at the time I appreciated it.
I’m not an autograph hound. It doesn’t bother me whether books are signed by authors or whether all my books by a certain author are in the same series style. Anyone who has seen my library (or just glanced at my cafe table at lunch time) knows I treat the physical object quite harshly. I dog ear pages, bend back spines, stuff books in overcrowded, crumb-riddled bags and accidentally drop them in the bath, but there are a few signed books I see as special. One is Jefferey Deaver’s Sleeping Doll (another is my absolutely battered copy of Kitchen Confidential in which Anthony Bourdain signed it and drew a dripping, bloodied knife).
I like Deaver’s novels for the suspense and thrills. Yes, they can be a little bloody at times but they’re not too bad. Or maybe I’m desensitised, who knows. I don’t think he is needlessly gory. I like his characters’ funny thoughts and little asides, and there are some marvellous supporting characters in his regular series which fill me with joy when they make an appearance. The thing that I love is that he always gets me. Whenever I think I have worked out the twist, the missing link, I am completely,utterly, totally wrong. Every book has an Aha! moment for me (at least one) and I love that. He has a new Kathryn Dance (crime-solving kinesics expert… a bit like some new show I’ve seen advertised with Tim Roth in it – what is it with English actors getting their own US TV series, Hugh, Johnny Lee now Tim?) novel due out this year and I can’t wait.
* The version of The Bone Collector I read was the film tie-in version, with Denzel and Angelina on the cover. To prove that I am very open to suggestion and perhaps don’t always pay attention to small details once I have made up my mind, I spent many years thinking that the Lincoln Rhyme character was African-American — like Denzel. It was only a couple of years ago that my Deaver-devoted friends pointed out that although not many of Lincoln’s physical characteristics are described, apart from the whole quadriplegic issue, there is enough detail to confirm that Lincoln Rhyme is Anglo-Saxon-Celtic-Northern European-whitefella, whatever descriptor you want to use. Of course, as soon as they said it, I knew they were right but just like you often mispronounce words that you first came across in books as a child (one of mine is ‘revel’, for librarian-extraordinaire Nancy Pearl it was ‘awry’), your initial imaginings of characters are hard to shake. Will Aragorn always look like Vigo for many people? Yes. Hermione Granger like Emma Watson? You betcha. And for me, in the privacy of my mind, Lincoln Rhyme will often look like a slightly gruffer version of Denzel Washington. Tis just the way it is.