Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Faces of Fear: Jeffery Deaver, THE BURNING WIRE

At a quick count, this 2010 crime novel from Jeffery Deaver is his ninth to include irascible and brilliant detective Lincoln Rhyme, confined to a wheelchair because of a spinal injury that's left him without the use of legs or arms -- just his neck and head and one hand function as THE BURNING WIRE opens. And, of course, his mind: organizer of crime scene forensics at a level that will eventually catch the small necessary traces of master criminals at work.

Rhyme needs all possible speed and resources, as an electrical troublemaker threatens to blow up New York City's generating plants, electrocute the innocent in public places, kill police officers and federal investigators. Previous Rhyme books have shown how dependent this investigator is on the the electrical systems that keep his broken body functioning and that link him to the people who are his legs, arms, even eyes on the scene. This time, Rhyme's partner and lover, detective Amelia Sachs, gets a taste of how brutally dangerous an electrical trap can be; her unavoidable fear of the pain and death in store are shared by assistant Ron Pulaski, pressured between Rhyme's sky-high expectations and a mastermind's high-voltage threats. Inevitably, the team begins to make mistakes.

Deaver braids the conflicts of multiple response teams, the shocks of urban terrorism, and the stresses of modern investigation -- as reliant on computers as it is on legwork -- to craft a compelling page-turner. Philosophizing in the steps of Mickey Spillane, Deaver has said that his job is to take the reader rapidly and intensely to the end of the book, through both action and mood.

Thriller readers will find the explanations of electrocution hazard -- so easy to create in our daily lives! -- to be sharp and vivid. Long-time fans of Deaver's characters, particularly Rhyme and Sachs, may not be as happy with this one, though. The usual frictions of the partnership are glossed over, and the intensity of the plot isn't reflected in the interactions of Rhyme with his team, his caregiver, the Mexican police leaders, Homeland Security, the FBI ... all those areas where logjams and ego ought to leap into action, crippling the investigators and their work.

Two themes of the book add some spice: one, details of and quotes from Thomas Alva Edison, American inventor par excellence; and two, characters literally quoting back to Rhyme his principles of forensic evidence, particularly the ones that insist that the presence of a criminal on a scene inevitably leads to an exchange of "bits" from the person to the place and back again, bits that become evidence when collected and analyzed.

This is a solid crime thriller, with accelerating pace, fascinating details, and new sources of fear, as Amelia in particular discovers that almost anything can become deadly when it's wired up right.

But I closed the book at the end with a twinge of regret: By the final chapter, Rhyme has committed to changes that scare his friends and lover. It's clearly a setup that calls for a sequel. But neither Rhyme's decisions nor Amelia Sachs's actions have shown in THE BURNING WIRE the high cost that life lived fully demands. So this one won't be my favorite on the Deaver shelf.

Then again -- I wouldn't miss a one of the investigations that this master of crime constructs.


Here's a nifty video interview with Deaver. Too bad the publisher/promoter missed the spelling ...

And it's worth looking at Deaver's web site, not just for the announcement of his November stand-alone novel EDGE, but also for his James Bond effort underway!

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