"The Empty Chair"

"The Empty Chair: A Lincoln Rhyme Novel"
By Jeffery Deaver
Simon & Schuster; 411 pages; $25 list, cheaper at Amazon.com  or paperback at Amazon.

Reviewed by John Orr

April 2000
Jeffery Deaver doesn't write novels -- he builds amusement parks.

With his latest, "The Empty Chair," he starts us out easy, letting us wander around a new area to enjoy the sights and take the baby rides. from Then he throws us on the big roller-coasters, and all of a sudden we are holding on for our lives and eyeglasses, being thrown by surprising turn after shocking twist for 200 pages before he finally throws us off at the end, with weak knees, shaky hands and smiles on our faces.

"The Empty Chair" marks the return of Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs, who were instantaneous hits in the thriller/mystery genre in their first book, "The Bone Collector," and its sequel, "The Coffin Dancer."

This one finds the brilliant but quadriplegic criminalist Lincoln; his field assistant and beloved, Amelia; and Lincoln's physical therapist and aide, Thom, in North Carolina. Lincoln is there to attempt a radical research operation in which embryonic neural tissues from a blue shark will be injected into his spine.

Lincoln is hoping for enough of an improvement in his movements that he might be able to hold Amelia's hand and feel it.

Amelia and Thom are both against it -- they fear that Lincoln may be made even worse by the operation. Amelia has motherhood much on her mind -- she wants to have Lincoln's children, and bring them up knowing the wonderful man he is regardless of the condition of his body. (We saw, in "The Coffin Dancer," how she might be able to produce children with him.)

While waiting the day or two for the research surgeon to perform the operation, Amelia brings in a local cop, Jim Bell, who asks for Lincoln's help in finding a 16-year-old -- the insect boy -- who has apparently killed a man and kidnapped two women. The hope is to save the women.

Lincoln agrees to help, and we step into the midway, and the mild rides; Lincoln and Amelia find the boy and one of the women -- and then, just when we think, gee, that was easy, Deaver throws us on the big roller coasters and we are swept away for the big thrills.

As with the previous Lincoln Rhyme books, Deaver keeps us surprised and guessing to the last page. Amelia is in jeopardy for most of the book and is even pitted against Rhyme himself, which is a delicious and clever twist of Deaver's knife.

I don't want to say anymore! Go read the book and enjoy its surprises yourself. Once I picked it up, I read it straight through.

If you haven't read "The Bone Collector" and "The Coffin Dancer," what's wrong with you? Aren't you paying attention??