Jeffery Deaver’s latest novel is not part of the Lincoln Rhyme or Kathryn Dance series, but rather a stand-alone effort in which he enters uncharted territory. While perhaps not his best book to date, it comes dangerously close to being so.
EDGE concerns a shepherd named Corte, who is charged with protecting a principal named Ryan Kessler from a lifter named Henry Loving. Got that? Okay. Let’s back up an inch or two and supply you with a couple of definitions. A “lifter” --- and Loving is one of the best --- interrogates and extracts information from a target, or principal, using such objects as sandpaper and alcohol. But he also applies the tool of getting an “edge” or leverage on a target by kidnapping or threatening someone close to them, such as a friend or family member, until they cave under pressure.
A shepherd, on the other hand, is charged with protecting the principal from the lifter. The shepherd, in effect, is a transporter, responsible for getting the principal from Point A to Point B, which can be anything from a U.S. Attorney’s office to a witness protection site. Corte is one of the best of the shepherds, and is employed with an anonymous government agency that does nothing but task shepherds out to protect government witnesses and the like. When Corte is assigned to protect Kessler, a Washington, D.C. police detective, all the agency knows is that Kessler is Loving’s latest target. It doesn’t know why Kessler has been targeted or who is targeting him. Corte is all right angles --- very dedicated, smart, and not given over to the warm and fuzzies. He also has a personal score to settle with Loving, a vendetta that becomes a distraction for him.
Corte is convinced that the answer to protecting Kessler and apprehending Loving is to discover who has hired Loving and why. He figures it out by working backwards, and of course when the surprises and betrayals start coming, they never stop. The result is one of the most exciting games of cat-and-mouse I have read in quite a while, with Corte and Loving constantly switching their roles as Tom and Jerry across the Virginian countryside, while Corte --- with Kessler’s family in tow --- seemingly tries to decide which order from his superiors he will break next.
Great plot? Indeed. But the characters are wonderful, each of them just a bit quirky in a real-world way. Corte’s protégé will remind you somewhat of Chloe O’Brian from “24,” and a somewhat irritating U.S. Attorney is given to using French colloquialisms for no good reason. Kessler has a drinking problem, and his sister-in-law, who is along for the ride, will remind you of that woman you started seeing during your last year of graduate school to your eternal regret. And Corte? He is an aficionado of board games, has studied linguistics and philology for the fun of it, and is an orienteering and sign-cutting enthusiast. I didn’t know what two of those things were before picking up the book, which once again demonstrates that reading a Deaver novel will almost certainly make you smarter.
It will also make you paranoid. By page 75, I was jumping every time someone wandered into a scene. If you’re not swallowing your hand every 10 pages or so, then either you don’t have a pulse or you’re not paying attention. It’s one long game of chess combined with rock/paper/scissor, only the chess board is rigged to explode if you make a wrong move, and the rock is actually a hand grenade with the pin already pulled. Be good to yourself, and read EDGE from beginning to end in one sitting.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 2, 2010