Newest Review: ... drawing conclusions from it. Rhyme is the very best, his knowledge second to none, but Deaver overplays the whole 'fish out of water' phra... more
Honey, get ma gun! This is hard to believe!
The Empty Chair - Jeffery Deaver
Member Name: pmcds
The Empty Chair - Jeffery Deaver
Advantages: Fast paced, full of detail, hard to put down for the most part
Disadvantages: Disappointing unbelievability far too often
The Empty Chair is the third book in Jeffrey Deaver's series featuring quadraplegic criminalist Lincoln Rhyme. If follows the international success of The Bone Collector, which was made into a film and is an intricate and hard to put down book about an abductor leaving people to die in and around a city; and The Coffin Dancer, which focuses on an elite killer for hire who is the master at deception and quite possible, according to Deaver, the most dangerous man alive.
Imagine my initial surprise then, when this book purported to be about a slightly unhinged teenage boy who has been accused of being key to numerous incidents in a sleepy North Carolina backwater town and is now the prime suspect in the abduction of two teenage girls. Rhyme and his preferred scene sweeper, Amelia Sachs, are in the location as Rhyme is endeavouring to have an operation to improve his physical condition with one of the best doctors in the country, and a former colleague's cousin is the local sherriff. Unable to locate The Insect Boy, as they have named the fugitive kidnapper, he turns to Rhyme and Sachs for help.
The key to these books is in following the evidence, much like you'd see them do on CSI on TV. The evidence doesn't lie is an adage well used but also very true, it's just a case of analysing it and drawing conclusions from it. Rhyme is the very best, his knowledge second to none, but Deaver overplays the whole 'fish out of water' phrase when it comes to the locale, Rhyme not familiar with the territory and therefore chemicals and components of the area. This opens a door for some separate characters than usual to come to his aid, such as using a local marine botanist for the scientific side of work, and relying on sleepy backwater town law enforcement to go along with his slick city action style. Sachs and the other officers in the field clash because of this and there is a complete lack of trust from the start.
The interesting elements of Deaver's books are usually in how Rhyme analyses the evidence and draws his conclusions. This requires a certain amount of facts to be divulged to the reader, and I end up finding his books informative and educational to a certain point as well as thrilling to read. While this is no exception in this way, it's by no means perfect and of the three I've now read is the least believable and most far fetched.
Perhaps it's taking them out of the city and putting them in a completely remote location that does it. The unfamiliarity and jumping to conclusions results in more tenuous links than normal, and while the characterisation is spot on with new and old characters, their actions are somewhat surprising. At the half way point, for example, Sachs does something so completely out of character that you think there must be something serious than has arisen, but although Deaver tries to justify the actions, it falls well short of being believable and ends up negating some of the more entertaining elements of the book that follow. Part of the lure of a series of books for me is in keeping them fresh and offering something different alongside the familiarity that you associate with developing characters and locations. Authors such as UK's Ian Rankin and Peter Robinson have done this expertly, as have US authors such as Michael Connelly and John Connolly. I'm fans of all of their work, and to be fair there are plenty of other authors I'd rank highly too, occasionally surpassing my love for these four but rarely so.
What Deaver does is flood us with intricate detail, and I love this, but where it falls down is in the weaker elements of the plot, the actions and developments that just aren't believable. When this happens, the intricacy falls even harder as the believability factor reduces to lower levels than you'd expect from a top author. There are plenty of twists along the way in this book, and to be fair some of these have the necessary effects that they need to on me as an innocent reader not necessarily expecting any more to come along. Deaver luckily doesn't follow the same path of single twist followed by bigger twist to catch you out - it's more about you not really knowing if there are any more twists to come along or if that's your lot.
The Empty Chair is also one of those books with a curious title that makes you think. It refers to a psychological procedure in the book but I'm still somewhat flumuxed as to why this was chosen. It makes you think a little, I guess, but it's another tenuous link that is ironically in keeping with some of the content that's hanging on by a thread. The pace of the book is mesmerising and despite the intricate detail it flows really fast. You don't feel like you need to take your time and to be honest the only time I stuttered and struggled to get into it was when the unbelievable elements started. Aside from this it was a very fluid read.
Overall then, I have to say that a Jeffrey Deaver book is always going to be enjoyable as far as I'm concerned, but it's to what level this reaches that is how I must make the comparison. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, although my disappointment in the weaker elements is what remains with me after the fact. I have the next one lined up ready to read, but will come back to it in a few books' time. I'm just hoping the realistic elements are addressed in it as another similar disappointment may make me put the remainder of the books to the back of the queue for the foreseeable future.
Summary: Disappointingly unbelievable elements in an otherwise exhilarating third Lincoln Rhyme thriller