Monday, April 6, 2020

The Never Game

The Never Game
by Jeffery Deaver
Recommended Ages: 14+

Colter Shaw isn't a cop. He isn't a detective. He isn't even a bounty hunter or bail bondsman. He just seeks missing people and collects the rewards offered for finding them. He doesn't have a badge or a license. He doesn't have to answer to anybody. And that's the way he likes it.

He doesn't even care about the rewards all that much. It's more about the challenge of solving a mystery everybody else can't or won't.

Shaw was brought up by a somewhat paranoid survivalist on a forest compound in California. He's on a long-term mission to find out what happened on an October night five years ago. While he's chasing those answers, he decides to try for a reward offered by the father of a 19-year-old woman who went for a bicycle ride and never came back.

He finds the girl easily enough. But in the process, he witnesses the cold-blooded murder of an innocent young man. He picks up on a pattern that suggests that a serial kidnapper (and sometimes killer) is living out a sick fantasy based on a computer game. Or maybe that's just what the perpetrator wants him to think. At the same time, someone is apparently searching for Shaw with who-knows-what intentions. Every clue – including ones only Shaw seems capable of spotting – indicates that he and the police must work together, and work fast, to save the next victim before it's too late.

It's a compelling mystery-thriller, set in a region of California where high technology comes to be born and where middle-class dreams, crushed by soaring property taxes, go to die. It drags a respectable number of red herrings across the trail, with plot twists torqued to a tension only Jeffery Deaver can achieve. As the debut of a new, recurring sleuth it's very successful; Colter Shaw will be a force to reckon with, I think. My only quibble is that, as he pays out two story lines at the same time, Deaver doesn't belay them both with ideal timing. As a result, I felt there was something out-of-shape about this story, like too much plot being revealed after the main climax. Not that I have a suggestion as to how he could have done it better.

Also included in this book is the short story The Second Hostage, also featuring Colter Shaw. In this adventure, Shaw rolls into an Oklahoma town looking for a teenage runaway. While visiting the sheriff's office in hope of getting a little help, he gets caught up in a hostage situation where all is not as it seems. Once again, Deaver plays one of his trademark tricks on the reader's expectations, landing on the more satisfying side of average and leaving me wanting more Colter Shaw, more than ever.

The Never Game is the first "Colter Shaw" novel by the author of 14 Lincoln Rhyme thrillers, four Kathryn Dance novels, three Rune and (credited as William Jefferies) three John Pellam books, as well as about a dozen other novels. The sequel to this book, The Goodbye Man, is scheduled for release on May 12, 2020.

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