Acheer for Jeffery Deaver, whose new book is as adroit at keeping cliché at bay as any of his earlier titles. That is no mean trick, considering that there are nearly 30 of them. The Burning Wire is something of a return to an old-fashioned, ticking-clock narrative, although Deaver keeps things up to date with a thoroughgoing modernity in the novel's trappings.
New York is under siege, with the electricity grid manipulated to murderous ends. People are dying, and suspicion falls on terrorists. But as both the CIA and the FBI sift through their fundamentalist suspects, Deaver's ace criminologist Lincoln Rhyme is at work on the forensic clues, aided (as often in the past) by policewoman Amelia Sachs and a crack team including talented FBI agent Fred Dellray. It becomes clear that the crimes are not post-9/11 ideological attacks, but the work of a sinister mastermind, whose cold-blooded agenda will give Rhyme and his crew their knottiest challenge yet.
The plot's the thing here, with exhilaratingly orchestrated set pieces and a host of breathtaking surprises. Ah, those Deaver surprises! No author is better at allowing us to think we have second-guessed him before pulling the rug out from beneath our feet with another narrative flourish.
But does this add up to more than just a cracking, if superficial, thriller in accelerando mode? Actually, it does. Beneath the mechanics of the page-turning, there's some subtle psychological underpinning smuggled in by Deaver for the quadriplegic Rhyme and his foot soldiers. Nothing, mind you, that pushes things too close to more overtly serious fare; but this extra attention does give a touch of added value for the reader, raising the book above the penny-plain characterisation of most entries in the blockbuster-thriller field.
Deaver has recharged his batteries in the past by putting his disabled investigator on the back-burner (as with his Kathryn Dance books). But the author has just ambitiously taken on another challenge: nothing less than the mantle of 007's creator, Ian Fleming. His James Bond outing, currently called "Project X", is still under development, but even if it arrives stillborn Deaver can rest easy in the knowledge that readers will be happy to settle back into the edgy company of Rhyme and co. That is as long as he can continue to up the thriller ante with novels as nimble as The Burning Wire.