Rated of 5
by Lee Kidd
A True Cat-and-Mouse Thriller.
After coming up against the ruthless urban assassin of the Coffin Dancer, criminalist Lincoln Rhyme and his understudy Amelia Sachs return as the head into the heart of the American "Moonshine" trade to hunt down the Insect Boy.
Deaver has created an astounding character in Lincoln Rhyme which has already been established in The Bone Collector and The Coffin Dancer. It is somewhat refreshing to see the focus of The Empty Chair placed firmly on the development of Amelia Sachs - and it's equally refreshing to see Deaver move out of his comfort zone of New York to explore a different surrounding.
In his post book notes, Deaver expresses his apologies for taking liberties with the landscape, but that hardly matters. In this book, every character is well developed - the fringe characters each have their own charm and menace in abundance, with every action and consequence well established with the thought processes documented precisely so the reader understands the motives behind the movements of each player on the chessboard that is the typical Jeffery Deaver thriller.
Lincoln Rhyme is deliberately understated for much of this novel, but he is still portrayed as the brilliant mind that pushes the action along. His assistant Thom is also given a much more prominent role - again, nice to see, as it will give the series a lot more depth in the long run to see the peripheral characters given some limelight.
The pace of the book isn't always spot on, however. The beginning chapter isn't enticing and is the only part of the book that isn't believable (without wanting to spoil the plot, the police actions for the initial kidnap are, well, "suspect" to say the least), but once you get through that it rockets along - and by the end of the novel you realise why the elaborate set-up had been established.
The plot has more twists than your typical rollercoaster. Indeed, by the end of the book, it seems like Deaver is continuing to write on just to include more twists! This results in a bit of a laboured climax, but the pages definitely turn and turn as you read on to the bitter end.
As always, Deaver's technical knowledge of the work of a criminalist is very good, if at times overstated. The detail of the Insect Boy's fascination with insects (well, duh!) also results in some very nice tidbits of trivia which are genuinely interesting.
Overall, it's a perfect addition to the Rhyme story and keeps the series ticking along at the usual explosive pace. Unlike most thrillers, it's not always certain that the protagonists are going to make it through, which does genuinely create a sense of tension when the characters find themselves in mortal danger.
It remains to be seen whether Deaver can keep up the pace he is setting with the Rhyme thrillers (given Ludlum's lacklustre The Prometheus Deception showing how authors can stagnate with a similar premise being written again and again), but with Deaver showing his adventurous side to move out of his New York comfort zone, the prospects of Rhyme and co. carrying on strong are good.