Once again, we see Deaver at both his best and his worst. I am a long-time fan of Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme/Amelia Sachs forensic mysteries, and despite the fact that this latest novel contains Deaver’s hallmark thrills and chills and surprise twists and turns, I felt let down by the end. Perhaps it was because Deaver has such a complicated overlapping of plots that, in order to solve them all, he has our hero make 13th-hour leaps to conclusions which are simply not justified by the evidence—a violation, I would think, of Rhyme’s own strict forensic code if not of the mystery genre itself. Too often I found myself rolling my eyeballs at Deaver’s shall-we-say “stretches.” To be fair, there were so many 5-star reviews of the book on Amazon.com that I have to wonder whether Deaver’s stalwart fans are simply too forgiving, or whether I’m getting too severe in my old age.
We meet Billy Haven in the very first pages, as he stalks, subdues, drags underground and elegantly tattoos his sedated victim with a deadly homegrown poison. He clearly takes great pleasure from his “art,” but is no madman, as we discover soon enough. Deaver’s portrayal of the villain is multi-dimensional, but as those dimensions are unveiled, they become more confusing than enlightening. Haven turns out to be too many things to too many people—a serial killer and a political fanatic; a botanist and an artist; lovestruck but also a narcissist; a wannabe leader and an abject follower. I think I developed whiplash following all his incarnations.
Many of the surprises in the book are deftly done, but some of the layers of the story are laid on with a trowel, such as the sub-plot surrounding Amelia’s young friend Pam and her boyfriend and [spoiler here] Deaver’s return once again to the theme of home-grown militia badhats targeting big bad New York City. And some of those layers are basically irrelevant to the main plot, such as the plight of Rhyme’s and Sach’s cop buddy Lon Sellitto. And what left a bad taste in my mouth was the post-climax ending, which I found just a little too facile and rather transparently intended to pave the way for the next in the series. Sorry, Jeffery. Can’t win ‘em all.