Of smart murders

Of smart murders

Of smart murders

The Steel Kiss
Jeffery Deaver
Hodder & Stoughton
2016, pp 496, Rs 699

In the bustling world of New York, where crime sprouts like mushrooms, a new era of “precision policing” begins in Jeffery Deaver’s latest thriller The Steel Kiss.

It unfolds a chilling domain of cyber crime, and a criminal to whom his victims seem “like flies to wanton boys”. He strings his killings along like Chinese crackers and off they go, sometimes with a tremendous blast, sometimes snuffed out noiselessly, and the perpetrator moves on lightly, unburdened by guilt, leaving few traces of evidence and no apparent motive to link the killings to each other.

Ah, but he has not reckoned with Amelia Sachs, the chief investigating officer, a gutsy beauty, and the 2 quadriplegics — Rhyme and Archer. Lincoln Rhyme has a solid reputation in the police department but has now retired and turned to teaching forensics. Archer is a newbie, and has the advantage of a mind uncluttered by previous experiences. It’s her simple but brilliant move that saves Sachs’s mother from sure death.  
The story begins midway in a chase, with Sachs hot on the heels of the perpetrator in a crowded mall, when the landing step on the escalator opens up, mangling an employee to death. A terrifying thing when commonplace conveniences fail to work as we expect them to. But it’s just the beginning, as the story soon shows. And a whole new world of horror opens up. DataWise 5000, a controller embedded in all Smart products, malfunctions when a computer savvy learns to bombard it, gaining unlimited access to millions of consumer products and by extension, to the consumers themselves. A world of convenience is suddenly a world of terror. Cars, microwaves, power tools, baby monitors go berserk. And all because a lone individual has been ill-treated by the world. For the investigators it is a breathless race against time, for the next disaster is simply the press of a button away.

Todd Williams, a blogger, is found dead on a street corner, his apartment goes up in flames taking with it any tell-tale pieces of evidence. Abe Benkoff, an advertising executive, dies smothered by gas in his own comfortable home. Joe Heady, a set builder at a theatre, dodges death narrowly as a microwave explodes. Henry and Ginnie Sutter’s companionable evening out is rudely shaken up, and they escape with simply a bad scare of losing their baby daughter, Edwin Boyle, is sent neatly off to death. And, it’s only a hair-breadth escape for Rose Sachs. Dr Nathan Egan, heading home after a tiring day of surgery, finds his car go haywire on a motorway. The victim is Everyman.

It is a thrilling if a rather long-drawn-out story, with aspects of a civil case suit thrown in. Almost as if to plump his story out, Deaver introduces other sub-stories. Of Nick Carelli, a cop turned con, and his involvement in the drug scene. Apparently, a cop walks a tightrope between the right and the wrong sides of the world, making it easy to slip over. And of Pulaski, who works for the New York Police Department and buys drugs on the sly. Murky waters. Nothing is as it seems.

The build-up of tension in the book — interspersing the pursuit of the perpetrator with a masterly piecing together of niggling bits of information — makes it racy. Brains are pitted against each other, the hot breath of the investigators almost constantly on the perpetrator’s neck. Yet, through calculation and a little luck he is ahead of them if only just, tingling our nerves.

A true page-turner but then there are many pages to turn. Too many, to tell the truth. The thrilling pace of the book is sadly slowed down by the additional stories of Carelli and Pulaski making it unnecessarily garrulous. Then there are pages of a chess game described in wearisome detail, adding nothing to the content of the story.

After racing through the pages in an ungodly hurry, the pace is now bogged down by unnecessary, irrelevant details. What struck horror and seemed convincing becomes mild and watered down. The story loses its tautness and starts to sag. Deaver falters.

The denouement rings false. Like someone running hard, losing control and falling flat on his face. The conclusion which should have unravelled the mystery is slipshod. A bit of psychological probing might have been in place here. Instead, incidents are hurried through, as if the length of the book has suddenly hit the author. The end, when it comes, is contrived. There is insincere emotion as Sachs finds the criminal “not unsympathetic”. Despite these shortcomings, a good read.

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