In the latest Lincoln Rhyme mystery Jeffery Deaver returns to a theme he last used in the non-Rhyme novel The Blue Nowhere, but gives it such a completely different twist that he really isn’t repeating himself. The villain of the piece is a computer hacker, but that’s more or less where the similarities end. In the latter book the bad guy was using his expertise to commit crimes. This bad guy is nutty as a fruitcake and is using his abilities to play with peoples’ lives for his own amusement.
Being nuts does not make him any less dangerous or deadly. Unsub 522, as he comes to be called by Rhyme and his associates, is a master of identity theft and data manipulation. He has somehow penetrated the sanctum of the world’s most effective data mining company and is using his access to destroy people.
It just happens that he ought not to have picked Lincoln Rhyme’s estranged cousin to mess with. When Arthur is arrested on murder charges, Rhyme is reluctantly persuaded to get involved. For reasons which are eventually revealed as the story rolls out, Lincoln and Arthur had a falling out during their university years and haven’t spoken in decades.
Begged by Arthur’s wife, Rhyme and his good right hand (well, both hands and feet and an active mind), Amelia Sachs take a look at the file and determine that, for once, the evidence is just too perfect.
Since Rhyme has been a quadriplegic for years ever since part of a building collapsed on him at a crime scene, Amelia is a vital part of the service he provides for the New York City Police Department. They are also lovers, in one of the oddest pairings in the mystery canon.
All the clues related to Arthur’s framing point to digital hanky-panky, and there are several other cases they turn up. The nastiest victim is a poor broken man who was once a doctor but now calls himself Job, and believes himself to be under the eye of an angry god who has stolen his life.
All paths seem to lead to Strategic Systems Datacorp, which likes to style itself as being the complete internet and data window on the world. In this case, it certainly appears that the window is broken and that’s not even a reference to Microsoft’s Vista software.
As the investigation proceeds the squad finds itself under digital siege. Members are suspended on trumped up charges; vehicles are impounded and destroyed; power is cut off to the condominium, a serious matter when one depends on life supporting machinery; Amelia’s home is broken into and her young relative terrorized. It is certainly clear that that Unsub 522 has them all in his sights.
As is usual with a Deaver novel, there are several points along the way where it appears that the case has been wrapped up - except that the number of pages left in the book tells you it can’t be so, and the next twist in the plot takes you off in a whole new direction. Also as usual, the whole thing takes place in just a few days, leaving the protagonists working against time and their own exhaustion.
Good story, well read. Great book for a road trip.