HarperCollins, 25 November 2021
Available as: HB, 448pp, audio, e
Source: Advance e-copy
I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance e-copy of The Midnight Lock to consider for review.
I enjoy Deaver's novels so much, and especially his Lincoln Rhyme thrillers. It's something to do with the strong setting and the collegiality of Rhyme and his group of friends/ helpers, but it doesn't hurt that, as Deaver described at a recent online session to launch The Midnight Lock, the author knows he's competing for attention with social media, games, video and countless other channels and he sets out to write books that grab the attention.
And how. In this latest visit to Rhyme's New York townhouse forensics lab - we've been away for a couple of years following the doings of new Deaver protagonist Colter Shaw on the West Coast - there is, as always, plenty of action, but this time, behind it all, a distinct air of menace. Rhyme has learned he's being targeted by old adversary The Watchmaker; he's also fluffed a case, and a crime boss who's free as a result wants revenge for Rhyme's involvement (some people have no gratitude); 'Verum', an online purveyor of fake news and rabble-stirring conspiracy theory, highlights Rhyme's failure as the outworking of a vast conspiracy; and, perhaps most concerning of all, the Mayor and the City authorities have turned against Rhyme, forbidding any police officer to work with, or even speak to him (tricky as Rhyme's wife Amelia is a cop).
It's all getting very dark, and amidst this, in a first person narrative, we hear the mysterious stalker known as 'The Locksmith' lay plans and carry them out. This figure, who will be Rhyme's main opponent in The Midnight Lock, is a master of burglary, entering women's apartments at night and disarranging things just enough to alarm. In some truly tense scenes, we see the break-ins and observe the Locksmith move around as if at home, toying with thoughts of going further still, selecting knives, musing on even worse crimes. Deaver gives us the dry, technical background to all the lockpicking, with serves both to show the depth of the Locksmith's skill and knowledge and also to undermine any faith I had in the ability of locks to protect.
Bolts, bolts are the thing, and don't trust electronics either.
As usual in these books, it's very much a game of cat and mouse - or several games, in fact; Rhyme can't of course let the fact that he's still looking into the case come out, and there are other forces at work too, with their own agendas, their own truths. The malleability of truth here is something of a theme, the story covering not only Verum's bizarre ravings but also the activities of a sleazy tabloid which monetises lies for the sake of sales, and a dubious streaming service one of whose content moderators seems rather casual to say the least.
Against this background, Rhyme's absolute faith in the truth as revealed by evidence (by which he means, scientific evidence, not testimony) is a rather helpful touchstone and pointed up something I should perhaps have spotted sooner, that Deaver is pitching Rhyme as a modern day Sherlock Holmes. Certainly the milieux of the two men are similar, solving crimes from their homes at the heart of the world-cities of their age, London and New York, but the focus in The Midnight Lock on samples of material from shoes to enable identification of movements put me in mind of Dr Joseph Bell, whose deductions Conan Doyle reflected in Holmes. More prosaically, I think, Rhyme has some of Holmes' crabbiness, his disdain for "unnecessary" information, even commonplace knowledge if it isn't related to crime or forensics (which gives a bit of comic relief here, akin to the judge who'd never heard of the Beatles). And the same sense of ennui when not actively engaged on a case.
I wouldn't take this parallel too far - Rhyme has married! - but the presence of The Watchmaker as a Nemesis does create another similarity. In this book, the first question to be determined is, of course, whether The Locksmith and The Watchmaker might be the same person, a possibility that adds to the sense of danger in the air, a sense that only builds as the unknown stalker becomes aware of Rhyme's interest and builds it into his plans...
As always with Deaver's books, The Midnight Lock is terrific, page-turning fun and I was pleased to re-acquaint myself with Rhymes after the break (although also glad to hear on that Zoom event that Shaw will also be back again).
For more information about The Midnight Lock, see the publisher's website here.