In this fifth case pitting quadriplegic criminalist Lincoln Rhyme against a murderous magician, Deaver (The Stone Monkey, 2002, etc.) tries his best to outdo himself—and brother, does it show.
Rhyme’s adventures, in which the armchair detective has depended on NYPD Officer Amelia Sachs for his legwork (and lately for emotional succor as well), have always traded on dexterous sleight-of-hand, so it’s only natural to literalize the metaphor in the Conjuror, the malevolent illusionist who first seems bent on dispatching a random collection of New Yorkers through diverse means at precise intervals of four hours. Of course, there’s a deeper method beneath this murderous madness; of course, the mechanics of each homicidal outrage—the Russian flautist strangled by a Houdini-designed rope tie called the Lazy Hangman, the gay makeup artist sawed in half, the equestrian lawyer chained and dunked by her ankles into a Central Park pond—are fiendishly inventive and the detective work equally so; and, of course, Deaver keeps the suspense taut by repeatedly bringing the cops face to face with the Conjuror at the crime scenes and repeatedly showing him slipping through their fingers. Even so, the staggering pile of red herrings Deaver tosses in to misdirect his fans and, more improbably, the cops—is the Conjuror avenging himself on the circus manager who let his wife die in a fire? is he scheming to break upstate militiaman Andrew Constable out of jail before his trial begins? is he planning to assassinate the ADA who’s trying Constable’s high-profile case?—eventually loses its sheen, and the manhunt ends in a sprawling, anticlimactic third act in which Deaver shamelessly pulls one rabbit after another from his hat, forgetting that the trick is to find one really good rabbit and pull hard.
All the prodigious energy and ingenuity of a canny performer who just doesn’t know when to quit.