Fans of Jeffery Deaver can rejoice. Lincoln Rhyme, the brilliant criminologist, is back. Yes, yes, nitpickers will note that he did appear in last year's absolutely wonderful THE DEVIL'S TEARDROP, so he never really went away; but that was a cameo appearance, a roll-on, if you will (and Rhyme would be the first to appreciate that insensitive remark). THE EMPTY CHAIR, Jeffery Deaver's Y2K offering to his growing-exponentially-by-the-minute legion of fans, is going to keep you up all night reading, and guessing, and guessing some more.
The title THE EMPTY CHAIR has a couple of meanings here. Deaver moves Rhyme and his protege/love interest Amelia Sachs out of New York City and into the South. Rhyme is lured to the University of North Carolina by the potential of some extremely risky experimental surgery, which may improve his condition --- at least to the extent that Rhyme's wheelchair may not be his sole source of locomotion. They have hardly arrived, however, when authorities from the local rural suburb of Tanner's Corner seek him out. A local teen has been murdered and two women abducted. They know who the perpetrator is --- a local resident nicknamed The Insect Boy. Can Rhyme help find him and the women before further violence occurs?
Well, of course he can! But that just gets things started. The Insect Boy is caught, but one of the women is still missing. The Insect Boy --- so named because of his encyclopedic knowledge, and mimicry, of insects --- undergoes "empty chair" therapy, wherein he pretends to address an empty chair as if it contains his victim. Sachs, during the course of this, becomes convinced of the Insect Boy's innocence --- a conviction that puts her and Rhyme, ultimately, on opposite sides of the law in a locale that has more secrets than a Clinton cabinet meeting and more in common with Twin Peaks than Mayberry.
Now, don't even try to guess the ending. I did, and I was right, but I was also wrong in so many ways that it didn't matter. I still would have wound up dead. The mystery alone is worth reading the book for. But Deaver readers get more. THE EMPTY CHAIR has more than everything you ever wanted to know about...insects! Besides making a very satisfying crunch when you step on them, or causing a general "Aha!" to arise when your electronic zapper gets a passel of them at your next outdoor beer party, they are really quite interesting. And they'll be here long after we're gone. Crunch. Well, some of them will, anyhow. Deaver also throws in some interesting facts about the lost colony of Roanoke and local color, and he never, ever, ever lets the suspense or the reader's interest flag for one nanosecond. That's quite a few balls to have in the air at once. But he never breaks a sweat.
THE EMPTY CHAIR may well be the best book you read this year. Even if it is not, it will be the book that you recommend the most to your friends. Who in turn, will recommend it to theirs, who will want to get acquainted with Jeffery Deaver's backlist, and...well, you get the idea. This is gonna spread. The Age of Deaver is not coming, it's here. Get used to it.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 3, 2001