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~The Killer Around Us~
You can't see it, you can't smell it, and you can't taste it, hear it or touch it but it's all around us and it has the potential to be deadly. In the right (or rather wrong) hands, it can kill and in the hands of a killer with a grudge it might just be the ultimate weapon of destruction - how can you guard against an attack using something that's all around us? It doesn't need to be smuggled through security or bought from a dodgy rogue nation or flown into airspace and spread through strange carrier systems. Electricity is the killer already in our midst and it's the technique chosen by the deadly killer or killers at the heart of Jeffrey Deaver's latest novel 'The Burning Wire'. The setting is New York City, the time is now and the man with the job of preventing a quite literal melt-down in the city is Deaver's most successful forensic super sleuth, the wheelchair bound Lincoln Rhyme.
~Rhyme or Reason~
Rhyme is a quadriplegic with no power of movement beneath the 4th cervical vertebra - except one finger which strangely still works. With a body that's been reduced to near worthlessness and leads him to be entirely reliant on others for his day to day needs, Rhyme's brilliant mind is the ultimate tool in protecting the city. From his basement nerve centre (I tend to imagine it a bit like the Bat Cave) he has access to the greatest database of forensic trace evidence and banks of analytical equipment and computers. All this equipment as well as the machines which keep Rhymes alive and mobile run on electricity - so the killer's tool is also ironically Rhyme's life-giver. However, despite the banks of high tech gear, it's the unique mind that makes the difference and Rhyme seems to have the type of brain which can see round corners, through apparently solid walls and directly into the hearts and minds of the devious criminal geniuses who've challenged him through a total of nine best selling novels and several spin offs.
In 'The Burning Wire' New York City's local electricity generating company Algonquin Consolidated receives a demand to divert and reduce the electricity supply - demands which they couldn't meet even if they wanted to. But we're none to sure they would want to even if they could. Are the company's directors as innocent as they seem? Intelligence reports suggest there's a new terrorist group in town - called 'Justice for' something or other - but nobody knows who wants justice or for what. We're led down blind trails through forensic evidence - some of it real, a lot of it 'placed' or staged to lead Rhyme in the wrong direction. One by one the killer plans increasingly devastating attacks as Rhyme and his usual supporting cast track down and eliminate suspects in the way only they know how, initially and rather too simply identifying the 'perp' as a disgruntled employee with health problems caused by working with electricity. As if trying to rescue New York City from a nutter wasn't enough to deal with, Rhyme's old nemesis 'The Watchmaker' is on the loose again down in Mexico stirring up trouble to keep him on his non-functional toes.
When a prime suspect is identified too early in a Rhyme novel regular readers will be suspicious that nothing is ever as simple as they expect. Sadly having to expect the unexpected is such standard fare for these books to the degree that we now know that expecting the unexpected has become such a standard technique in these books that we're no longer surprised. When you expect the unexpected it's no longer unexpected - ergo, where's the point? And that's at the root cause of my dissatisfaction with The Burning Wire. Over 13 years reading Deaver's novels I've learned how these books work and I know how to spot what's real and what's not and where I'm being led astray. The tension has gone and the unpredictable is all too predictable. Sadly the old techniques just doesn't work any more and the books are becoming all too formulaic. When I started with the first Rhyme novel - the fabulous 'Bone Collector' - I was so impressed I told everyone I knew to read Deaver. Now I've stopped getting excited when a new one comes out and I wait to swap them or pick them up in charity shops. My copy of The Burning Wire was 50p at a boot fair and at that price, I sguess I shouldn't grumble but I've moved on from paying cover price and even pre-ordering them.
If the Burning Wire were your first, second or even third introduction to Lincoln Rhyme you could well be impressed. If you like really graphic murders then you'll love the creative killing in this book - the description of a group of people getting 'fried' in the second attack is gory enough to keep any horror fan happy (if that's your kind of thing) and he's not lost his touch in showing how the tiniest bits of trace evidence can hold the key to sleuthing out the answers. But the trouble is it's all been done before and by the same people. There are some clever twists and turns - the undercover cop who arranges an enormous advance for an informer who disappears, the junior member of Rhyme's team who doubts his vocation after an accident, and the attempts of various groups to debate assisted suicide with Rhymes are each interesting angles, but the core relationship of Lincoln and his love interest Amelia Sachs has reached the point where there's really nowhere further it can go.
I wanted to love The Burning Wire and I found it an interesting challenge to try to track and predict what would happen next, but I didn't enjoy it the way I used to enjoy his earlier books. When an author writes a series it's important to keep the characters and the crimes 'fresh' and this one was definitely a bit on the stale side. I wanted some new characters and new twists but I didn't find them this time. I hope he'll get back on track with the next one - because regardless of how predictable they get, I can't really see me giving up on Lincoln Rhyme just yet.