Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review of Jeffery Deaver's The Kill Room

The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver

This is the tenth of Jeffery Deaver's fascinating Lincoln Rhyme/Amelia Sachs novels. For those unfamiliar with the series, Rhyme is a quadriplegic former policeman, a forensic genius who consults for law enforcement agencies from his high-tech control room in a New York City brownstone. Sachs is his lover, still on the force. Despite her premature osteoarthritis, she functions as his legs and eyes on crime sites, often wearing a streaming video camera so he can view the murder scene.

One morning, Rhyme's friend and former partner Detective Lon Sellitto appears with a Captain (Special Services Division) and Nance Laurel, an Assistant District Attorney. They have an unusual case. Roberto Moreno, a US citizen and passionate anti-US advocate in Latin America, was murdered by a super sniper in a hotel room in the Bahamas. Two other people in the room were also killed, apparently by flying glass. Laurel has evidence that the assassination was ordered by the head of NIOS, a quasi-federal intelligence gathering agency headquartered in New York City. She believes that Shreve Metzger, a man with known anger-management issues, has gone rogue and ordered  the assassination on flimsy intelligence.

Police in the Bahamas seem eager to call it a mob hit and close the case. Offending the US, source of many tourist dollars, is not in their interest. They stonewall so effectively that Rhyme, for the first time since the accident that crippled him, decides to travel to the murder scene himself. While he is away, the criminals' mop-up man, a gourmet cook who loves his knives, is busy eliminating witnesses and any possible links to the perpetrators. It seemed for a while that we were going to have a Hannibal Lecter-type scenario as well, but the author mercifully stopped short of that––barely.

Like most of the Rhyme thrillers, the story is complex and well-plotted, with many twists; but it is not for the faint of heart or stomach. The issues it addresses made me uncomfortable, and I found myself yelling at or arguing with the author and various characters from time to time, much to my husband's amusement. The relationship between Rhyme and Sachs shifts subtly as her arthritis progresses, and Rhyme relearns the sobering lessons of his incapacity afresh in the waters off Nassau. It is Rhyme, with his genius, crotchety character, and authentic-sounding relationships that keeps me coming back book after book to this sometimes gruesome series.

I would like to think of this book as just another thriller, but it pulls in many real situations from recent headlines and raises questions that we as a nation have yet to answer. In addition to his taste for the gruesome and bizarre, Deaver has a rare gift for challenging the world views of his readers, often to their discomfort.

When is it acceptable to assassinate someone who may be plotting a terrorist attack, based on intelligence information? What if they are US citizens? On US soil? What about "collateral damage,'' which is what we call the inadvertent death of nearby innocents? What if the intelligence information is accidentally or deliberately flawed? Who makes these decisions? Who should? And what processes and levels of oversight are in place to prevent abuse of this horrific ability to target and kill anyone, anywhere, at any time? Some of these questions may be unanswerable; situational ethics and the "good of the many" versus the individual right of due process is the thorniest piece of the legacy that 9/11 left with us. And perhaps the most troubling issue of all, highlighted in this book: dare we outsource these decisions ––affecting both our individual constitutional rights and our national security––to corporate contractors?

Note: I received a free review copy of Jeffery Deaver's The Kill Room, published by Grand Central Publishing and scheduled for release on June 4, 2013. Versions of this review may appear on other review sites, under my user names there.

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