Mystery writers and magicians have a lot in common. The audience for
each turns up expecting to be entertained and baffled by illusion and
misdirection (otherwise known as the red herring), by disguises and
quick changes. Jeffrey Deaver may be the twistiest of contemporary
thrillers writers but in some ways he also harks back to the
locked-room heyday of John Dickson Carr, where murders are reminiscent
of conjuring tricks. So it's appropriate that Deaver has gone to the
world of magic for his latest Lincoln Rhyme novel.
Deaver's many fans will know that nothing is what it seems in his
thrillers and The Vanished Man provides a superlative example
of the author's ability to manipulate his readers. An embittered
magician by the name of Malerick embarks on a killing spree, beginning
with a music student and, four hours later, a make-up artist. Each
death is modelled on a famous magic trick (yes, that does include
sawing a body in half), and at every crime scene there are clues to be
discovered. With this ultra-ingenious killer, however, the question is
whether those clues have been deliberately left so as to mislead.
Suspense is screwed tighter because the killer appears to be working
to a timetable - almost the entire action of The Vanished Man
takes place over two days. Interwoven with the tale of the malevolent
magician is the fate of an imprisoned white supremacist, and
one of the pleasures of the book is seeing how Deaver loops these two
strands together. Other sub-plots involve the attempts of Amelia Sachs
- Rhyme's sidekick/lover - to make detective sergeant, and the
parallel struggle by Kara, an attractive apprentice magician, to make
a name for herself on stage.
As usual, Deaver has researched in depth and every reader will go
away having learnt something about the glamorous, slightly sinister
domain of magic. I sometimes felt that the whole edifice of the book
was in danger of collapse as Deaver piled one three-card trick on top
of another,but there's no doubt that this author's taste for multiple
plot deceptions holds up an authentic mirror (a distorting one,
naturally) to the magician's world.