XO, By Jeffery Deaver. Hodder & Stoughton £18.99.


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The Independent Culture

Authors of crime fiction know a way to give their writing a certain cachet: invoke music. Conan Doyle has Sherlock Holmes enjoying the operas of Wagner, while PD James gives Adam Dalgliesh a taste for Elgar's Cello Concerto. All this music has a certain cultural respectability however, and confers a degree of sophistication on your copper.

What then of country music, which saturates the new novel by Jeffery Deaver? Indeed, there's even a tie-in Nashville-produced CD. The genre still suffers from a perception that it is redneck fare: lachrymose, right-wing and musically trite. And in XO, despite Deaver's customary authority in dispensing an ineluctably gripping crime narrative, your attitude to country may well determine your response to the book. Deaver's dedication has extended to including the lyrics from the album by his book's country singer. Some of them are key to the plot but do not best represent Deaver's skills as a wordsmith – unless he is trying to create a facsimile of the banality of most country songs.

The book itself is as capable a piece of thriller writing as Deaver has delivered. Kayleigh Towne is riding high in the country charts when she agrees to a concert in her home town. But a fanatical admirer called Edwin Sharp has been sending letters and emails extolling his eternal love; threats of legal action do not faze him, and he appears to have access to every detail of Kayleigh's past. The worried singer enlists the aid of an old friend, Deaver's recurring Special Agent Kathryn Dance. When one of the road crew is killed, the murder method appears to be inspired by the first verse of Kayleigh's current hit and Kathryn realises other verses may lead to further murders. But is the killer the obsessed Edwin?

The plotting here is endlessly surprising, and it's necessary to keep an eye on every character as Deaver always plays fair concerning the revelations. However, whether or not you'll want to listen to the accompanying CD will depend on whether your taste is for Mahler or Merle Haggard.