Big Brother -- and Big Business --
are watching us.
Be afraid. Be very afraid

''The Broken Window: A Lincoln Rhyme Novel''
By Jeffery Deaver
(Simon & Schuster, 415 pps., $26.95)
Buy at Amazon

Reviewed by John Orr
June 2008

In Jeffery Deaver's latest, ''The Broken Window,'' Detective Amelia Sachs enters ''a disgusting dive, a transients' hotel inhabited by druggies and drunks.''

In it she finds a man she knows to be an orthopedic surgeon, Robert Jorgensen, dressed in threadbare clothes, dissecting a book -- cutting out pages, slicing them into strips. Another book sits in a microwave oven.

''Microwaving's the best way to destroy them,'' Jorgensen tells Sachs. She thinks ''Maybe mental illness had led to his downfall.''

But, Jorgensen turns out have his mental cards in order; he knows someone has maliciously stolen his credit identity and ruined his life -- cost him money, his career and his family.

And he knows that part of the way his torturer has tracked him is through devices placed in books (and DVDs and CDs and many other products) by manufacturers to keep certain big retailers happy. When the book (or whatever) is scanned at the cash register, the transaction is recorded and inventories updated in a computer server. Also recorded are credit card numbers.

Deaver's latest creepy sociopath used Jorgensen's credit cards and other information to run up $2 million in debt, get his medical insurance cancelled, to send flowers to women other than Jorgensen's wife.

''Ruining him was a huge high,'' thinks the bad guy. ''Orgasmic, indescribable ... Taking a perfectly normal, happy family man, a good, caring doctor, and destroying him.''

But that was just a hobby for this bad guy, who remains nameless for a long time in this scary, scary book. His job gives him access to information collected by a data-mining company -- he uses that information to find women to rape and kill, flawlessly framing innocent men for the crimes.

The bad guy's fatal error turns out to be framing a fellow named Arthur Rhyme -- whose cousin just happens to be Lincoln Rhyme, Sachs' boss and boyfriend, and a brilliant criminologist. Rhyme and Sachs, as usual, figure out what's going on.

Deaver has written creepier books, but this may be his scariest. What Deaver -- a painstaking researcher -- reveals about data mining is terrifying.

How, where and when we buy things is recorded; how, when, where and to whom we make phone calls is recorded. Where we are at any given moment is traceable, and not just by transactions, but by GPS devices and even because of those little devices planted in books.

There are companies that specialize in mining that data, then selling it to marketers so that you and everyone else may be approached with customized sales pitches. Or maybe the government uses the information to track perceived threats. Big Brother lives.

Deaver is a great writer and this is an entertaining book, but after you read it you may want to cut it up into strips, or maybe just give it a few minutes in the microwave.