Lincoln Rhyme, the quadriplegic criminalist who recently knocked 'em dead at the bijou (The Bone Collector, 1997), is back, sweating to rescue a pair of kidnapped Tarheelers from the insect-loving kid who's snatched them.
Lured to North Carolina by the promise of some experimental surgery that might allow him to move more than his head and a single finger, Rhyme is on hand, along with his protégé Amelia Sachs, when Sheriff Jim Bell gets the news that Garrett Hanlon, the troubled teenager who already killed fellow-student Billy Stail and dragged Mary Beth McConnell off to the back of beyond, has returned to abduct nurse Lydia Johansson as well. Analyzing the scanty trace evidence with all his usual rigor, Rhyme, using Sachs as his eyes and nose at the crime scene, dopes out where the Insect Boy must be taking his victims, and Sachs, joined by Bell's deputies, races a trio of moronic moonshiners bent on a reward Mary Beth's mother has offered to catch up with Hanlon first. The case would be closed if this were anybody but devious Deaver. But the arrest is only his cue to turn up the heat, as Rhyme and Sachs duke it out over Hanlon's guilt, and their conflict leaves Sachs on the run with Hanlon in custody, or vice versa. As former allies turn against each other, Deaver shows loyalties dissolving and reforming in record time. But the effect of this double-time quadrille is more ingenious than illuminating; Rhyme's forensic work is more dogged than gripping; and the galaxy of junior-league threats who take the place of Deaver's usual sociopathic monsters (The Devil's Teardrop, 1999, etc.) are no more threatening than a cloud of pesky mosquitoes.
Dozens of twists and a couple of first-class shocks, but it all trails off like an endless fireworks display that keeps exploding into bangs and blossoms even after you've started to look for your car. (Literary Guild/Mystery Guild Main Selection.)