Fans of the genre’s most indefatigable prestidigitator are in for a treat: The third volume of his short stories (More Twisted, 2006, etc.) may be his best.
“I hate ambiguous endings!” Deaver announces in his prefatory Author’s Note. Fair enough, but there’s plenty of ambiguity, some of it teasing, some of it nerve-wracking, in the middle of most of these dozen tales from the past ten years. Deaver regulars Lincoln Rhyme and Kathryn Dance appear in a pair of stories—he tangles with an exceptionally messy serial killer in “A Textbook Case”; she battles the clock to extract information from a white supremacist about the terrorist plot that’s about to bear fruit in “Fast”—that could have been sketches for their novels. In “Paradice,” Hollywood location scout John Pellam crashes his truck, its brakes shot, into the western burg of Gurney and multiple betrayals. “Reconciliation” begins in a more ruminative vein, as a man returns to his hometown in the hope of somehow reconnecting with his uncaring late father, but ends with the usual Deaver surprises. Best of all are “The Weapon,” another interrogation, this one with a sharper-edged punch line; “The Therapist,” whose hero has a unique way of attracting and helping new clients; and “Bump,” in which a has-been actor ends up in a reality TV poker show whose stakes are higher than he can imagine. The only real disappointments are “The Obit,” an undernourished and eminently predictable tale that begins with Lincoln Rhyme’s obituary, and “Forever,” whose opening question—why are so many aging couples engaging in murder-suicide pacts?—bogs down in disjointed plot twists and an ending that’s, well, too ambiguous.
Deaver describes five of these stories as new, and his publisher identifies five more as reprints. One of the others, “Bump,” is a reprint as well. But what about “The Competitors,” a routine tale of terrorism at the Olympics? It’s just one more mystery.