J is for Jeffery

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.