Jeffrey Deaver

Hodder Stoughton £17.99 Rel: May 2003

Reviewed by Philip Gooden

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.