Monday, October 7, 2019

The Empty Chair

The Empty Chair
by Jeffery Deaver
Recommended Ages: 14+

Quadriplegic forensic scientist Lincoln Rhyme is in North Carolina for an operation that he hopes will give him back a little more sensation and movement. Since an on-the job accident some years ago, he has only been able to move from the shoulders up, plus his left ring finger. He requires the assistance of a live-in caretaker named Thom for most daily functions, and of a beautiful but stubborn redheaded cop named Amelia Sachs to comb crime scenes for evidence. On this trip, Sachs fears that Rhyme is risking too much for what will be, at best, a tiny improvement. But she's the one who rushes into danger when the sheriff of a nearby county requests their help searching for a disturbed teenager who has already killed another boy and kidnapped two young women.

While Rhyme and a grudging volunteer use borrowed equipment to analyze evidence in real time, Sachs hits the trail of the suspect, known locally as Insect Boy, in hopes of catching up to him before the girls come to harm. The search isn't just dangerous because Insect Boy uses his knowledge of bugs to rig a series of fiendish booby traps. There also seems to be a rogue cop, bent on killing the kid to avenge previous deaths for which he went unpunished. And then there are the three local bad boys, all heavily armed and looking for a piece of the action. Even after they catch Insect Boy and save one of his female victims, the other one remains unaccounted for and may be running out of time. But the mentally unbalanced kid isn't talking. According to the evidence, he looks guilty as hell.

Things come to a head when Sachs breaks the kid out of jail and becomes co-target of another search, with Rhyme on the other side, following the evidence. She's convinced there's more to the story than what the evidence reveals. But as the forces of law officers and outlaws converge on the two fugitives, Sachs does the unthinkable – guaranteed to leave the reader shaken and wondering, for the rest of the book, how this can possibly not be the end for the Rhyme-Sachs partnership.

The answer to that – see me doing my best to withhold spoilers – is a particularly over-the-top example, in my opinion, of Jeffery Deaver's penchant for insane plot twists. I won't deny that I found this book thrilling, suspenseful and mentally stimulating, with its fascinating setting and scientific background – not to mention the psychological interviewing technique that gives it its title. But after multiple surprise revelations turned around everything you thought was true in the story, the final surprise that resolves the big question mentioned above – and then the even more final one after it, which is kind of a bonus – left a bad taste in my mouth. I was disturbed by them for days after reading this book, in part because I thought they did a disservice to a couple of characters as they were previously established, and in part because these last couple of twists (or at least the last one) needlessly pulled the story out of shape. They were also of the too convenient to be true persuasion – either desperate moves to write oneself out of a corner, or twists just for twists' sake; I'm not sure which.

This is the third of 14 Lincoln Rhyme novels, a series that started in 1997 with The Bone Collector and most recently added The Cutting Edge in 2018. The next book in sequence is The Stone Monkey. Deaver, sometimes credited as Jeffery Wilds Deaver or William Jefferies, is also the author of the Rune trilogy (Manhattan Is My Beat, etc.), the John Pellam trilogy (Shallow Graves, etc.), four Kathryn Dance novels (The Sleeping Doll, etc.), a couple of Colter Shaw novels (The Never Game, The Goodbye Man) and more than a dozen other novels with such titles as The Blue Nowhere and The Bodies Left Behind.

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