Jeffery Deaver's latest thriller may well be my favorite of his
to date, supplanting THE DEVIL'S TEARDROP for that distinction.
While it's possible that he has written better books, I have the
feeling that when my friends ask for a reading recommendation, it
will be THE SLEEPING DOLL that I transfer from my shaky fingers to
The novel marks the return of Kathryn Dance, first introduced in
THE COLD MOON. She is a worthy protagonist, no question about it,
but fans of Deaver's work read him not so much for his heroes
(Lincoln Rhyme notwithstanding) as for his evildoers. What makes
this newest work special is that the villain of the piece, Daniel
Pell, has been dubbed the "Son of Manson" by the media. On the
surface this is an apt comparison. As the book begins, Pell is
serving a life sentence for the brutal murders of four family
members, with only one, the Sleeping Doll, surviving.
Pell, a la Manson, had his own "family" consisting of three women
and another man, along with a large collection of material
regarding the cult leader. When he makes an ingenious escape
attempt during an interrogation concerning another, unrelated
murder, Dance is put in charge of re-capturing him.
Deaver's move in casting Pell as an apparent Charles Manson clone
is a stroke of genius. The mere thought of Manson, even in his 70s,
somehow making a teetering escape out of maximum security and
hobbling around at large would be more than enough cause to have a
sizable amount of the population from the Atlantic to the Pacific
grabbing shotguns, pitchforks and torches until he was dead or
returned to custody. The author captures this feeling perfectly, as
Pell --- clever, smart and extremely dangerous --- avoids being
caught time and again.
Meanwhile, the Sleeping Doll (so named because she slept through
the attack on her family) does not appear until well over halfway
through this fine work, yet she unexpectedly holds the key to much
of what happens --- even as Pell seems to be on the verge of making
his escape a permanent one.
Deaver must have Yogi Berra's motto "It ain't over till it's over"
engraved above his writing desk. While there are two major endings
(and at least one minor ending) to THE SLEEPING DOLL, he leaves one
with the feeling that more may be coming. Combining his familiar
touches with some brand new flourishes --- not to mention his
scariest villain to date --- Deaver once again has produced a work
that succeeds on all levels.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011