Deaver back with global thriller

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by David Pitt

IN Jef­fery Deaver’s The Kill Room (Grand Cen­tral, 502 pages, $17), Lin­coln Rhyme, the quad­ri­plegic New York City crim­i­nal­ist, faces his tough­est chal­lenge yet: solv­ing a mur­der that hap­pened in an­other coun­try. The vic­tim was as­sas­si­nated in the Ba­hamas, but it looks like the mur­der was planned and, some­how, ex­e­cuted from NYC. The ques­tion is, how can Rhyme an­a­lyze a crime scene that’s a thou­sand miles away? If you’re a fan of Deaver’s brand of thriller, you al­ready know what you’re in store for: sharply drawn char­ac­ters, life­like di­a­logue and abrupt, neck-wrench­ing plot twists. Deaver’s al­ways had a knack for craft­ing com­pelling vil­lains, but this book’s got one of his most in­ter­est­ing — a knife-wield­ing killer with a pas­sion for gourmet cui­sine. An­other fine en­try in a con­sis­tently ex­cel­lent se­ries. If you like your mys­ter­ies a lit­tle more, shall we say, hard-boiled, you should check out Red Planet Blues (Pen­guin Canada, 348 pages, $13.50), by Toronto’s Robert J. Sawyer. Ex­panded from Sawyer’s near-per­fect novella Iden­tity Theft, the book tells the story of Alex Lo­max, a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor who lucks into the big­gest case of his ca­reer — a case that could set him up for life, as­sum­ing he can stay alive long enough to solve it. Lo­max’s first-per­son nar­ra­tion is ap­pro­pri­ately noir-ish, the story is full of sus­pense and mis­di­rec­tion (it in­volves the a mur­der that hap­pened many years ago), and the set­ting is fresh and very well­con­ceived. In Sawyer’s ex­pert hands, New Klondike, the first hu­man city on Mars, feels dingy and thread­bare, like a typ­i­cal town in a typ­i­cal noir mys­tery. The book might not be quite as good as the au­thor’s first mys­tery/SF cross­over, the 1997 court­room drama Il­le­gal Alien, but it comes pretty darned close. Top of the Morn­ing (Grand Cen­tral, 339 pages, $19) by Brian Stel­ter is sort of the morn­ing-show ver­sion of Bill Carter’s clas­sic The Late Shift (1994). Where Carter chron­i­cled the back-room pol­i­tics be­hind the search for a new host for The Tonight Show, Stel­ter looks at the be­hindthe-scenes go­ings-on at the two top-rated morn­ing shows: NBC’s To­day show and ABC’s Good Morn­ing Amer­ica. Us­ing NBC’s ul­ti­mately un­suc­cess­ful hir­ing of Ann Curry to re­place Mered­ith Vieira as a co-host of To­day as a jump­ing-off point, Stel­ter, who was a me­dia re­porter for the New York Times when he wrote the book (he now hosts a show on CNN), ex­am­ines the long-stand­ing ri­valry be­tween To­day and Good Morn­ing Amer­ica, and the lengths to which each show’s pro­duc­ers and hosts will go to reach the top of the rat­ings. A bit gos­sipy, per­haps, but the book is mostly solidly doc­u­mented and al­ways en­ter­tain­ing. Now here’s some­thing you don’t see ev­ery day: a pa­per­back orig­i­nal that’s as good as, or even bet­ter than, many books that ap­pear in hard­cover. Keith Thom­son’s 7 Grams of Lead (An­chor Books, 446 pages, $10) is a grip­ping thriller in which a jour­nal­ist un­cov­ers a top-level govern­ment con­spir­acy whose or­ches­tra­tors will stop at noth­ing to keep hid­den. Sure, it sounds like pretty stan­dard stuff, but Thom­son at­tacks the ma­te­rial with such gusto that he makes it feel fresh. Russ Thorn­ton, the in­trepid In­ter­net blog­ger, is a nice twist on the stan­dard-is­sue fear­less jour­nal­ist char­ac­ter, and the au­thor packs the book with so many seem­ingly au­then­tic de­tails about top-se­cret sur­veil­lance tech­nol­ogy, weaponry and es­pi­onage that it’s easy to imag­ine he’s a vet­eran in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tive (in­stead of a for­mer semi-pro base­ball player and a tal­ented news­pa­per ed­i­to­rial car­toon­ist). With a con­spir­acy plot wor­thy of a Ja­son Bourne novel, and stylis­ti­cally su­pe­rior to any­thing Bourne’s cre­ator, Robert Lud­lum, ever wrote, the book is a must-read for fans of ac­tion thrillers. Halifax free­lancer David Pitt’s col­umn ap­pears the first weekend of ev­ery month.

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