Lincoln Rhyme
and the Ghost of China

"The Stone Monkey: A Lincoln Rhyme Novel
By Jeffery Deaver
(Simon & Schuster, 424 pps., $25)

Buy it at in hardcover

Visit Jeffery Deaver's website

Reviewed by John Orr
March 2002

It's always a pleasure when a Jeffery Deaver novel shows up.

Seventeen novels into his career, he has set benchmark after benchmark for crime fiction: most engaging and thrilling, best forensics procedurals, best researched and -- in Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs -- the best detective duo since Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

And, like Rex Stout's Wolfe and Goodwin series, Deaver's novels don't insult a reader's intelligence. Minds are delightfully and thoroughly engaged and Deaver never has to be forgiven for bad writing or stupid plotting.

Deaver's plan is to write a Rhyme and Sachs novel every other year, and some other thriller in the intervening years.

This is a Rhymes and Sachs year, and they return in "Stone Monkey," which is outwardly about crimes against illegal Chinese immigrants in New York, but is more deeply -- and surprisingly, perhaps -- an exploration of family issues.

This being Deaver, readers are going to learn about China, about "snakeheads" who arrange to illegally ship immigrants to the United States, about how detectives operate in China, New York and in federal agencies, and a bit about the difficult lives of quadriplegics.

But they're also going to get a mystery thriller that is almost poetic about family life, as Deaver writes not only of two Chinese families trying for better lives in the United States, but also about Rhyme and Sachs wrestling with the issue of trying to make a baby.

We met Rhyme and Sachs in "The Bone Collector." Rhyme is a brilliant evidence specialist who was injured on the job, becoming a quadriplegic; Sachs is the beautiful former model turned police officer who becomes his assistant as he helps investigate crimes.

"The Stone Monkey" opens aboard the Fuzhou Dragon, which is approaching Long Island after the long, miserable cruise from China. Captain Sen Zi-jun is surprised to find that a Coast Guard cutter is on course to intercept his ship, which carries a cargo of illegal immigrants to Meiguo, the Beautiful Country.

The snakehead who took the immigrants' money to arrange the trip -- Kwan Ang, known as Gui, the Ghost, is calm, and moves all the passengers, the crew and the captain to a below-decks hold. Where he locks them in, not long before blowing a hole in the hull to sink the ship.

The Coast Guard cutter found the Dragon because of Rhyme, who's been called in to help in a multi-agency effort to do something about the traffic in illegal immigrants from China, who are often abused en route and all too often drowned off shore when something goes wrong. Rhyme had considered material gathered by other officers, then cleverly deduced the projected course of the Dragon.

But the Ghost's efforts to do away with anyone who can identify him fail when a number of people escape; he shoots those he can find, but two families -- the Changs and the Wu's -- escape, as does a mysterious man named Sonny Li.

Before the authorities can get to the rocky beach where the survivors land, both families get away to run for Manhattan. Sachs is the first officer to get to the scene, and she saves one more man who is stranded on the rocks, leaking blood from a gunshot wound.

Then it becomes a complicated race for Rhyme to find the families -- who are hiding from authorities for fear of deportation -- before the Ghost can find them and kill them.

Having read all of the Rhyme/Sachs thrillers, I found myself successfully predicting, a few times, when Rhyme would somehow save the day when disaster loomed; but even with that, Deaver still managed to take my breath away at least once with a truly stunning surprise.

That's part of why it's so fun to read Deaver: He can give a reader whiplash with his twists and turns.

But a really moving part of this novel is what Sachs is going through as she contemplates trying to have Rhyme's baby. She begins to take comfort in the company of the immigrant whose life she saved, Dr. Sung Kai.

As he heals from his own wounds, be begins to tend to her inner wounds -- and her arthritis -- with Chinese herbs and a very soothing manner.

Before too long, we have to wonder if Sachs' romance with Rhyme is in danger.