Another brilliant bit of magic
from ever-clever Jeffery Deaver

''The Vanished Man''
By Jeffery Deaver
(Simon & Schuster, 399 pp., $25)

Buy it at in hardcover

Reviewed by John Orr
March 2003

If ''The Tempest'' was Shakespeare's homage to the magic of his own writing and stagecraft, then ''The Vanished Man'' is Jeffery Deaver's homage to the magic and thrills of his own novels.

''You'll think you've figured out what he's up to but that's part of his plan. ... He'll use your suspicions -- and your intelligence -- against you. In fact, he needs your suspicions and intelligence for his tricks to work.''

That could be a description of Deaver's best mysteries, because intelligent readers may try to figure out what's happening, but they are almost always surprised anyway by Deaver's amazing plotting.

The speaker is a character in ''The Vanished Man,'' which starts when two New York police officers investigate the murder of a woman killed by what magicians call ''The Lazy Hangman.'' She was handcuffed, on her belly with her ankles tied, a rope going from her ankles to around her throat.

Bending over her is a brown-haired, bearded man. He distracts the officers with a blinding flash and when their vision returns, they see him running into a recital hall.

An elderly janitor in back hasn't seen anybody come out, so they have the man trapped. A gunshot is heard in the room.

But when they enter the room, no one is there.

Amelia Sachs, Lincoln Rhyme and the rest of their crew have the challenge of figuring out what kind of curious individual they are chasing this time. Quickly, Rhyme ascertains, ''He's an organized offender. He's going to do this again.''

They also figure out that the killer is a magician and hire another magician to help them solve the case. How they deduce all that, of course, is part of the charm and fun of Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme novels, which are masterpieces of modern criminology. Something odd about the friction-ridge prints, the silk fibers found near the victim, traces of makeup. Clues to put Rhyme's brilliant mind to work.

What Deaver has imagined here is chillingly scary. His bad guy can get into or out of any room -- including the finest lock-up used by New York's finest -- and he can seem to be anyone or altogether invisible. The misdeeds mount up, and the clues start to point toward a horrific crime, in which hundreds or thousands of innocent victims may be hideously injured.

It's a prime Deaver book, not as horrifying as ''The Bone Collector'' or ''Coffin Dancer'' but just as thrilling, with laughter and gasps of shock assured. And Deaver just doesn't let up with the plot twists.