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~Hugs and Kisses~ When Katherine Dance takes a break from her work for a short holiday, she doesn't expect to get herself drawn into a murder enquiry. Maybe she should have - there wouldn't be much of a 'whodunnit' if Jeffrey Deaver had just written about Katherine's holiday. Instead, in his 2012 novel 'XO', Deaver drops Katherine right into the middle of a complex case of multiple killings and a nasty theme of stalking. The 'XO' of the title represents a kiss and a hug, the way in which the country singer around whom the story revolves signs off her letters and emails to fans. Deaver fans will recognise Katherine Dance as his female protagonist who works for the CBI - California Bureau of Investigation - as a 'kinesics' specialist, an expert in body language. She has appeared in several of his novels either as the lead character in 'The Sleeping Doll' and 'Roadside Crosses' or playing a support role, popping up when Deaver's more established sleuth Lincoln Rhyme is running the show and needs a body language expert. Deaver has tried for some years to introduce a second serial character and he dabbled with a hand-writing expert in one of his novels (the Devil's Teardrop) but that particular expertise didn't seem to give enough scope for sleuthing and didn't seem to catch on but he's thrown quite a few novels at Katherine Dance and she seems to be his attempt to write for a more feminine readership. You might think there's only so far you can go with a wheel-chair bound quadriplegic forensic scientist (Lincoln Rhyme), but Deaver's still coming up with ever more bizarre story lines for him. He keeps life a little bit simpler for Dance. ~Crimes against (country) music~ Dance is a widow with two children, starting to dabble in the world of dating again, and taking advantage of the kids being at summer camp to take a few days off and combine an opportunity to indulge her hobby as a 'song catcher', making recordings of traditional folk music with a chance to see her celebrity buddy Kayleigh Towne who is doing a concert in Towne's home town of Fresno. Kayleigh has a problem - or possibly several. Not only does she have an ultra-persistent stalker, but someone who calls himself/herself the 'Shadow' is killing people connected with her. The first death is particularly gory and each death is predicted and announced with the playing of a relevant verse from Kayleigh's song 'Your Shadow'. The Prime Suspect is Edwin Sharp, a man obsessed beyond measure with the beautiful young country singer. He sends her hundreds of emails, tracking Kayleigh down each time her staff try to make her disappear via new email addresses. She can run but she can't hide, Edwin finds her again and again. He's active on all sorts of underground internet fan sites and he knows everything it's possible to know about his idol. He knows she loves him really and of course it's all just a show that she's pushing him away. He's the obvious prime suspect, the one all the investigators have their eyes on, but Sharp is - as the name suggests - very sharp. Intellectually he's a match for any of the team hunting for the killer of Kayleigh's friends, family and in one case, a man who has stolen from her. Dance is supposed to be an expert at body language, but whilst her skills work on 'normal' witnesses and suspects, Sharp is so controlled and so bright that he's hard to crack. Fortunately, Lincoln Rhyme and his team are conveniently on hand to drop in and help out with the Fresno investigation. ~Here we go again~ As a long-term Deaver reader, I know all the signs of when I'm being led astray. I know the obvious is never really obvious, and whilst I can't always predict the twists, I can be sure there will be twists. Nothing will ever be what it's supposed to be. I suspend disbelief and expect the surprises and just relax and let them hit me. Each time I read a Deaver novel I swear it's going to be my last. I'm just so bored by the predictable unpredictability of the novels but somehow I keep finding them in second hand book stores or online at special prices and I just keep buying the damned things. They're like a guilty secret, an occasional binge of low-grade junk-reading that leaves me feeling hollow and a little bit ashamed when I finish them. Dance is not a convincing character. She's a woman written by a man who doesn't really understand women. I find Lincoln Rhyme a much more accessible character and a much better drawn one than Deaver's kinesics specialist. I don't believe her personality, I don't empathise with her home and romance problems, in short I don't care about her. In this particular case, I struggled to care too much about Kayleigh, the talented beautiful singer either. I was deeply irritated by the second-rate country lyrics which were used to warn Kayleigh each time a murder was about to take place and the inclusion of a chapter of lyrics for the songs that are mentioned in the story at the end of the book was just plain silly, in my cynical disinterested opinion. On the plus side, for those who loathe the really violent killings of the Lincoln Rhyme series, the violence in XO is toned down a little. That's not to say it's soft on the victims who are almost all burned alive (or not quite) in order to link their killings to another of Kayleigh's songs. There's also an interesting plot line about how the singer's relationship with her father, a star long before she was even born, develops from one of loved daughter to controlled puppet. When you're young, cute and talented, it's not only the tormented and demented super-fans who want a piece of you and the successful present conflicts with a sad, emotionally deprived past. ~Details~ XO, Jeffrey Deaver ISBN 978-0-340-93731-0 408pp in the hardback edition published by Hodder and Stoughton.