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25 January 2017

Review - The Steel Kiss (a Lincoln Rhyme Thriller) by Jeffery Deaver

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The Steel Kiss
Jeffery Deaver
Hodder, 26 January 2017
PB, 632pp

I'm grateful to the publisher for a copy of this book to review.

Detective Amelia Sachs is hot on the trail of a murderer, chasing him through a Brooklyn department store, when her pursuit is fatally interrupted. An escalator gives way, forcing Sachs down into the machinery to help the man trapped in its depths... and enabling the suspect to flee.

But was it simply a freak accident? Could the killer's presence in the store really be a coincidence?

As the body count threatens to grow, Sachs and forensic expert Lincoln Rhyme realise they are facing one of their most formidable opponents ever. Someone able to turn the most commonplace product into a murder weapon. Someone who can kill by remote control...

One of the joys - and absolute, unearned, privileges - of book blogging is getting sent copies of books you'd otherwise overlook. There are lots of books published: too many to ever realise what you're missing and I - like, I'm sure, all readers - have huge areas of the literary landscape that I've never explored, authors I haven't read, genres I've never, or barely, touched.

Well, one of those authors is Deaver and one of those genres is thrillers (though I've slightly more acquaintance with thrillers than I have with, say, Westerms or Romance). So it was great to be offered The Steel Kiss for review by someone whose opinions I really trust, and I have really enjoyed the book. An analogy from physics, my first love, might be that I'm stuck in a local minimum - a ballbearing in a dip halfway up a hill - and a bit of energy in the system, a bit of noise, can jostle me out of it so I can roll down the slope to a better place. Being offered this book achieved that.

It focusses on forensics genius (ex) Captain Lincoln Rhyme of NYPD and his friends and colleagues - principally Detective Amelia Sachs - over a few days as they track down a serial killer.

I'm obviously coming into a series midway through here but Deaver gives just enough detail to pick up what's been happening - Rhyme leaving the Force after a case goes bad and Sachs, his partner (in life, not just in work) struggling to come to terms with that. Some of the other events described here may or may not have featured in earlier books, I just don't know, but it doesn't matter. The book tells you what you need to know.

I was impressed at how Deaver builds up the personalities of the team: it's a rather strange setup, with them working out of Rhyme's private residence in New York: he's quadriplegic so this gives him the adaptations he needs to contribute to the case. But it works well, the various individuals striking off each other (they include Juliette Archer, a student from Rhyme's forensics course, who may be a rival for Amelia, a small family of cops, one of who has some private business of his own which forms one of the subplots, and Thom, Rhyme's carer who is a genius with baking).

Rhyme himself is at the centre of the story, he's something of a Sherlock Holmes figure both in his irascibility and focus (the others tease him rather over his insistence on correct grammar, by constantly inventing new verbs - agendising and de-weaponising, for example). It's a very visual story: Deaver throws in replicas of the forensic white boards, which gradually fill as more information arrives and, at one point, diagrams of a chess game

Despite this, and the humour, the team's task is serious. A killer is striking, seemingly at random, in the heart of New York. He can apparently manipulate everyday objects, making a murder weapon out of a car or an escalator. How is he doing it, and why?

At the same time Deaver shows us the story through the eyes of the killer, who is transcribing a schoolboy diary that may or may not provide some clues about his motivation for killing the "Shoppers" that he targets. Not a lot is given away - we don't know until a good way in what, exactly, the killer is up to, beyond the grim hints about his "Toy Room" and his penchant for sharp tools...

It's a tense story, despite the length of the book (600+ pages is normally what I expect in Big Fantasy) and despite two subplots - one involving Nick, Amelia's ex-boyfriend, a disgraced cop newly out of prison who wants to prove his innocence, and one following Ron Polaski, the aforementioned team member who's up to something odd - to which a fair amount of space is devoted. At first I thought these were a distraction and that they were taking away tension from the main story - but Deaver knows what he's doing and these stories-in-a-story counterpoint the main action and illustrate the sprawling nature of life - and policing - in New York. They also, perhaps, help the book take its place in the longer sequence of stories about Rhyme and his crew.

Finally, in a nice touch for the UK reader, at the end Deaver gives a glimpse of one of Rhyme's exploits closer to home, showing him perhaps at his most Holmesian.

Fun, with a rollicking pace offsetting the grisly nature of the crimes and above all, an ability to laugh at itself, this is a great thriller and I'm so glad it was recommended to me.

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