Lincoln Rhyme knows better than most how important it is to have a job that motivates. Rhyme, a quadriplegic former police detective, offers his blunt perspective on that notion as he watches his girlfriend, New York homicide detective Amelia Sachs, recoil in the face of a three-month suspension.
“Working is what we’re made for – dogs, horses, humans,” Rhyme muses. “Take that away and we’re diminished, sometimes irreversibly.”
Rhyme’s philosophy surfaces as part of The Steel Kiss, Jeffery Deaver’s latest twisty thriller and the 12th starring Rhyme.
Deaver embodies his fictional detective’s observation. At 65, he has written 37 novels, three collections of short stories, and dabbled in everything from folk music to an audio-only drama.
And he has no plans for slowing down any time soon. At least two more novels are in the pipeline as Deaver juggles two best-selling series: the Rhyme mysteries, which tend to be forensic and scientific, and books featuring California interrogation and body-language expert Kathryn Dance.
Along with occasional stand-alone books, Deaver has edited and contributed to several anthologies. In 2011, he published “Carte Blanche,” a contemporary James Bond novel commissioned by the estate of Bond creator Ian Fleming.
Readers familiar with Deaver’s work will delight in “The Steel Kiss,” which features not only Rhyme and Sachs but recurring characters such as young detective Ron Pulaski, tech expert Mel Cooper, and hardened police vet Lon Sellitto. As ever, Rhyme is clipped, impatient, and grammatically precise.
A typical exchange: A detective tells Rhyme, after a sweep for a suspect, “nobody matching his descrip was seen.” Rhyme’s response: “That’s not a word. ‘Descrip.’ There’s ‘nondescript’ and there’s ‘description.’ But there’s no ‘descrip.’”
After being told “descrip” is “common usage on the street,” Rhyme snaps, “So is methamphetamine. That’s no reason to embrace it.”
Deaver, as ever, does a nice job of making his novel accessible and entertaining for first-time readers, carefully providing enough context to share the tics and personalities involved without being overbearing.
Rhyme and Sachs, as detectives, make a formidable team. Because of his condition, Rhyme is the antithesis of derring-do. His mind isn’t just his most formidable weapon; it’s his only one.
Sachs is smart and intuitive and, crucially, still in the field, able to collect evidence and bring it back for analysis with Rhyme. (In the series, Rhyme’s reputation for solving complex crimes has made him an in-demand consultant to the NYPD.) She’s also a surefire shot and rip-roaring driver, speeding through the crowded streets of New York City in what Deaver describes as a blood-red Torino.
“The Steel Kiss” throws yet another complicated series of seemingly random murders at Rhyme and Sachs — and with a suitably wicked twist: Someone has managed to take control of so-called smart appliances and machinery, turning escalators and microwaves into deadly objects.
Machines turning on their creators, for many of us, remains an irresistible nightmare, popping up in science fiction, horror and other genres.
The things-behaving-badly case emerges as Rhyme and Sachs, who are also romantically linked, find their relationship strained. An unexpectedly gifted intern, also wheelchair-bound, brings a new face to Rhyme’s crew, too.
Lest any of this sound drawn-out, let it be known that Deaver remains committed to his storytelling ethos, as defined in an essay he wrote for The Wall Street Journal in 2012: “The most breathtaking prose and brilliantly drawn characters are wasted if the plot meanders and digresses.”
During a recent interview, the novelist, who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., spoke to me about keeping readers guessing and one-upping previous plots. Deaver had just returned from the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, where he has become a regular as a breeder and trainer of show dogs.
On his love of training dogs: For one thing, it really takes my mind away from the writing of the sick and twisted books (laughs).
On the idea of turning everyday appliances into remote-controlled weapons: First of all, the kind of book I write is one that moves really fast. I don’t write long, psychological dramas. I want things to move.
And part of that is finding scenarios that will put people on the edge of their seats.
Like in “The Bone Collector” [the first Rhyme novel, published in 1997 and later made into a movie starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie]. This serial kidnapper was looking for situations where most readers would find themselves: on elevators, in restrooms and so on.
When I practiced law [before becoming a full-time writer], I did a little research, I wrote a law review article and it involved some cases of product liability. I thought, well, that’s kind of creepy. We don’t think anything of [these objects], they’re innocuous. I thought, OK, I’ll warp these as weapons, also the consumer issues, are we too greedy, do the companies have a moral obligation to look out for us?
So I thought that would be a wonderfully creepy way to get a book that races along. Are we going to find that Lincoln and Amelia can stop the killer or not?
On going back and forth between series characters: For me, it doesn’t really matter; I’m just excited that I get to write books for a living. How exciting is that?
The reason I change from one to another is that the Lincoln books tend to be a little more scientific in nature and the Kathryn books tend to be more psychological.
Now, the Lincoln books, the bad guys have sick and twisted psychological elements to them, but Kathryn is more of people cop. She’s person-on-person. The individual who would be more inclined to use, say, the electric grid, like in “The Burning Wire,” that’s more scientific and forensic in nature, so I give those sorts of stories to Lincoln Rhyme.
And the others I would give to Kathryn Dance. The template for both is very similar: they’re fast-paced, there’s some esoteric information — in “XO” it was music-industry stalking, in “The Kill Room” it was about government assassination — that’s how it breaks down. In the Kathryn books, I don’t have to work so hard on the technical information. It’s more of a question of what’s best for the readers.
On his work pace: I’m always writing. It’s eight months of planning and outlining. I do very extensive outlines, they’re about 100 to 200 pages long and then I do a lot of research, too.
At the same time, I probably do about five or six short stories a year, I wrote a radio-play last year called “The Starling Project” and I’m trying to write a television show, a comedy, of all things.
Although I do a book a year, I also have to throw in eight or so other projects for the fun of it. The short stories, I don’t make any money on, you get kind of an honorarium for them. But I do them because they’re a lot of fun and the fans love the short stories. They’re very twist-oriented, which I really love.
Characters we care about in the novels; in the short stories, it’s all about the twist. I can have the most reprehensible serial killer who’s the hero [in a short story], which is great fun. I can completely pull the rug right out from underneath the reader. I can’t get away with that in a novel because we care about the characters too much.
On why he made Rhyme a quadriplegic: There were two reasons. Going back to the days when I started reading mysteries, I was absolutely enamored of the Conan Doyle stories of Sherlock Holmes. I liked a hero whose main tool was an intellect. Sherlock Holmes got out in the field some, but, basically, Holmes was an intellect.
The real impetus, though, was a reaction against the clichéd action heroes that we see from films. I love these characters I’m going to name, but the “Die Hard” movies with Bruce Willis, the Tom Cruise “Mission: Impossible” movies, they can be great fun, but, ultimately, they come down to a physical confrontation with the villain. So I wanted a hero was forced to outthink the villain.
Originally, he was going to be a paraplegic, paralyzed from the waist down, but I said, no, I’m going to go all the way, so he is pure mind. And I never thought he would be that popular, that he would be that kind of thriller hero. He’s just taken off. People absolutely love him. The readers embrace the disability. Some would like him to get better, but that’s not who he is.
He’s a curmudgeon, he’s a tough guy, and he’s real. I’ve gotten a lot of response from the disabled community that he was representative of a real disabled individual; that is, a real human being. These are not people who are on pedestals, these are not people who are less than human, they’re like all of us — they just happen to have a slightly different physical state.
On what’s next: Actually, I’m working on a new Lincoln Rhyme, I’m doing two in a row (with “The Steel Kiss”). This will be set in Europe, most of it in Italy. The first half in America and the second half in Italy.
I travel to Italy quite a bit, I’m very familiar with the country. Because of several incidents in the news that would be up Lincoln Rhyme’s alley, I’ve decided to set the book there.
The book after that will probably be another Kathryn Dance book, but it could very easily be a stand-alone. I have an idea for an interesting stand-alone.
I hit 65 last year and I was prepared to think about retirement, but this stuff is too much fun. I just can’t do it.