Books: Murdered by tech stealth
Thriller: The Steel Kiss, Jeffery Deaver, Hodder & Stoughton, hdbk, 496 pages, €28.50
There is a problem shared by all successful writers who have created strong on-going lead characters - from our own John Connolly and his PI hero Charlie Parker to his American namesake Michael Connelly and his LA detective Harry Bosch to Lee Child and loner Jack Reacher and Patricia Cornwell and her medical examiner Kay Scarpetta - and that is how to keep the franchise fresh in book after book.
According to Jeffery Deaver, creator of the iconic paraplegic forensic investigator Lincoln Rhyme, to establish a successful series, thriller writers have to overcome two major hurdles.
The first issue is that they have to write the same thing over and over again, but make it different each time. In Deaver's case, he says, the stories must include forensic science, police procedure and both Rhyme and his policewoman associate Amelia Sachs's ongoing physical conditions (she suffers from chronic arthritis), and the issue is to keep coming up with ideas that develop the characters in some way. For instance, in previous books, both Rhyme and Sachs undergo touch-and-go major surgery which could have had catastrophic consequences if the procedures had not been successful.
The second problem, Deaver says, is that "authors can't truly put their continuing characters in danger. So I need to come up with clever ways to jeopardise them (like personal relationship stories, or giving them sidekicks whom they love and care for - and whom I gleefully murder in chapter five."
To be fair, in his latest book, The Steel Kiss, while Deaver doesn't kill off any of Sachs's and Rhyme's relatives or close associates, he does subject several of them to potentially fatal consequences and ratchets up the tension to unbearable as Sachs is stalked by the highly intelligent but seriously deranged murderer she is trying to capture.
Deaver has also come up with a string of new developments that alter the familiar landscape of the Rhyme/Sachs relationship. While explaining all of them would be an egregious spoiler of readers' enjoyment of this edge-of-the-seat thriller, it is revealed early on that Rhyme has decided to give up his work with the New York Police Department and now freelances as a lecturer and writer.
Sachs must now run investigations from her office in the police department on her own, and it is clear that Rhyme's decision has affected their personal relationship.
The Steel Kiss opens with as gruesome a scene as Deaver has ever created. Amelia Sachs is in hot pursuit of a murderer in a shopping mall when she hears a terrible scream. An escalator has malfunctioned and a man has fallen into a service trapdoor on it and is being mauled horribly by the gears. Sachs is torn, but goes to help the injured man, letting her target escape.
When the man she tried to save dies, and other sophisticated modern machinery malfunctions with devastating consequences, it eventually emerges that someone technologically brilliant has managed to find a way to turn common electronic products, from microwave ovens to water boilers, into deadly murder weapons. The urgency of the situation brings the old team back together in a desperate effort to halt the rising death toll, but Deaver cleverly adds a string of intriguing new twists and turns that will keep the Rhyme/Sachs relationship on a fraught edge well into the future.
This latest instalment in the Lincoln Rhyme story exhibits all the qualities former lawyer Jeffery Deaver brings to his books - formidable technological and forensic research, acute insight into the criminal mind, an insightful awareness of serious moral issues that affect modern life, and an awesome ability to weave all these different strands into breathlessly entertaining fiction.