Xo, By Jeffrey Deaver

New thriller is as capable a piece of writing as Deaver has delivered

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The Independent Culture

Authors of crime fiction know that there is a way to give their writing a certain cachet: mention music, a useful shorthand for characterising your detective. Conan Doyle has Sherlock Holmes enjoying the operas of Wagner, while PD James gives Adam Dalgliesh a taste for Elgar's Cello Concerto.

Jazz, of course, is frequently used in similar fashion (e.g. John Harvey’s jazz-loving sleuth Resnick). But all the music mentioned above has a certain cultural respectability (even jazz has long since attained this status), and confers a certain sophistication on your copper. What about country music, which saturates the new novel by Jeffrey Deaver? Although there are now serious studies of the new country singers, 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 music may determine your response to the book, as shot through with the music as a stick of Brighton rock is with its place of origin. Deaver’s obvious 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 attempting a facsimile of the banality of most country lyrics.

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

The plotting here is endlessly surprising, and it's necessary to keep a weather eye on every character as Deaver always plays fair with us concerning the various revelations. However, whether or not you will want to listen to the CD of country music that accompanies Xo will entirely depend on whether or not your taste is for Mahler or Dolly Parton.