Thursday, 15 January 2015

Jeffrey Deaver: The October List

I was sure I’d blogged Deaver’s last-but-one Lincoln Rhyme book, The Kill Room, but I can’t find any trace of it. Bygones. It’s not very good; all the usual bad habits, nothing all that new, and the twist is an even bigger cheat than Deaver usually indulges himself in. Rhyme and his wacky crew have got boring as people, and their mysteries - well, I have to be honest. I don’t read mysteries for the mysteries, I read them for the company of fools solving the mystery. If I don’t like the company ...

So The October List looked like it might be a better bet for my semi-annual Deaver hit. Not so much that it wasn’t the same old tired characters as that it had a brand-new gimmick; it starts at the end, and every chapter goes a little further back into the story. Deaver had built his career on books where every chapter ends on a cliffhanger which then gets resolved in the next chapter with a twist you didn’t see coming. What I wanted to see was how the hell he could make that work in reverse? 

Well, he can. He makes the twists work. It’s a book you have to read in a tearing hurry, because you need to remember what’s “just” happened so that the “new” information in the next chapter can do its job of turning your understanding upside down. It’s very, very clever; each chapter begins with the characters breathlessly emerging from a crisis and trying to figure out what to do, and then the next one shows you what happened an hour before and turns the previous chapter’s logic on its head. The crisis isn’t what you thought it was, and the cliff hanger which just ended the last chapter isn’t what it looked like either. And Deaver pulls this off over and over again in twenty or thirty chapters. It’s an impressive trick.

It comes at a price; the writing is often unnatural in its phrasing and pacing as Deaver tries to misdirect the reader. You’re given a character’s interior monologue and afterward you realise that no-one who knew what the character actually knew would have thought those things in that way; the cheats and misdirections don’t feel as “fair” as they should. But this is an incredibly difficult thing to do; it’s a miracle that it works even as well as it does. The slightly bigger problem is that Deaver has always depended on characters whose motivations are not what they seem to be, and by the time you get to the end of the book - the beginning of the plot - there have been so many reversals of motive that I was almost wishing the body count was even higher than it was. 

It’s a great book to read and pass on; I don’t imagine that it would be fun to read it twice, any more than it would be fun to do the same crossword puzzle all over again. I’m glad Deaver tried it, and impressed that he carried it off at all, but it’s a book that’s destined to bounce around from one reader to the next.

No comments: