It felt like time for some light reading, and my favorite light reading is the crime novel. So I picked up a Jeffrey Deaver hardback from a used book stand for a couple of dollars--and was glad I hadn't forked out more. I first encountered Deaver a few years ago through The Bone Collector, with its appealing quadriplegic forensic genius Lincoln Rhyme (marvelously played in a film version by Denzel Washington.) I sped through the book, as I have done other books by Deaver since, with considerable enjoyment. I think that Roadside Crosses will be my last.
I'm a sucker for stories. I always want to know what happens next, and Deaver is one of those writers who knows how to keep you turning the pages. So I kept reading to the end. But I have begun to find his characters emotionally unconvincing. Their back-stories seem contrived, their emotional responses too convenient to the author's purposes. He pays too much on the jeopardy of vulnerable characters; the gut is always telling us that the jeopardy is fake. And there's a narrative trick he resorts to time and again, to the point of straining both credulity and good will. He arrives at a climactic moment--the death, let's say, of one of the characters--only to revise it a few pages on: the character was not dead, after all, but reduced in the nick of time by the (implausible) ingenuity of the investigator. Ah, so it only seemed as though the character succumbed. More fool us, for having been so duped.
We should not feel duped by a crime story writer. We may be duped by his characters, but not by the writer. We make an implicit contract with him, and feel cheated when he breaks it. I may weaken and pick up another Deaver one day at a garage sale, when I'm looking for light fare. But I hope that I remind myself not to! One star, from me, for the page-turning thing.