The Sleeping Doll
by Jeffery Deaver
Recommended Ages: 14+
Daniel Pell was the center of a cult-like crime family that many compare to that of Charles Manson. That all ended, it seems, the night he killed all but one member of a wealthy family, plus his accomplice, in a home invasion robbery gone horribly wrong. An anonymous tip led to his arrest and conviction, and since then he's been locked up in a super-secure prison. But now, apparently, he has played law enforcement at their own game, moving real-life game pieces around the board from inside his prison, all to get an opportunity to escape from a far less secure facility – the Monterey County Sheriff's Office. Aided by an insecure young woman who has fallen under his spell, he continues to elude capture while, mysteriously, making no real attempt to leave the Monterey area. Only Dance's brilliant intuitive leaps and ability to prise information out of reluctant sources enables her to stay on Pell's trail and even, a handful of times, to come within arm's reach of nabbing him, if only those take-downs weren't bungled somehow.
This mystery-thriller excels in demonstrating how Dance's peculiar skills can really come in handy when a psychopath is on the loose. She picks the brains of the surviving members of Pell's previous cult. She garners valuable clues from an interview with the sole surviving member of the family Pell murdered – a small child at the time, she was christened "the sleeping doll" in the media because she survived the massacre while sleeping in a bed covered with toys. Dance even becomes a target herself when the villain decides she's become a threat to his sense of invulnerability.
It's a tale full of devious twists and turns, featuring a heroine – widowed mother of two, having trouble getting back into dating, interested in footwear and a semi-professional collector of folk music – who attains fully fleshed reality in the reader's imagination. Her moods, her relationships, the complexities of her personal and professional life make her a richly believable character, which serves as a just-adequate counterbalance to the multiple outlandish plot twists that are Deaver's stock in trade. I've sometimes considered those twists, which in a non-zero number of cases have crossed the line into the preposterous, to be a detriment to the quality of his books. There were moments in this book when I considered the possibility that this would end up being one of those cases. But in the overall balance of things, I think it worked – albeit with a nervous laugh on my part – in spite of the reader being asked three or four times, in the final act alone, to reconsider who was a good guy or gal vs. who was a bad. In the last analysis, I'm only going to ding this book for going on a bit too long after resolving the main climax. It's a risk a writer undertakes when he sets out to deceive his reader in as flamboyant a fashion as Deaver frequently does.
This 2007 book has three sequels so far: Roadside Crosses (2009), XO (2012) and Solitude Creek (2015). Deaver is also the author of three Rune books (starting in 1989 with Manhattan Is My Beat and leading to Hard News, 1991); three John Pellam novels (from 1992's Shallow Graves to Hell's Kitchen, 2001); 14 Lincoln Rhyme thrillers (from The Bone Collector, 1997, to The Cutting Edge, 2018), a 2014 Lincoln Rhyme/Lucas Davenport crossover co-authored with John Sandford, titled Rhymes With Prey; two Colter Shaw books (The Never Game, 2019, and The Goodbye Man, publishing May 12 of this year); and such standalone titles as The Lesson of Her Death, The Devil's Teardrop, The Blue Nowhere and The Bodies Left Behind. He also seems to be an avid writer of short stories, with several collections of them to his credit. In short, the man is an industry. I don't remember whether I saw him playing poker with Richard Castle, but I wouldn't be surprised.