Jeffery Deaver’s thrillers tap into our deepest fears. His series featuring Lincoln Rhyme, a quadriplegic detective who is aided by his assistant and now wife, NYPD detective Amelia Sachs, often focuses on a psychopath terrorizing New York City. While Rhyme is limited in his physical movements, his intellectual skills are second to none. Because he can’t walk the crime scene grid, Amelia does that for him. The perpetrator is often identified from something other detectives have overlooked – a grain of sand, a footprint, residue on a scrap of paper, a fiber. Kathryn Dance, whose skills in interrogation and interpreting body movements (kinesics) proved invaluable to Rhyme on numerous occasions, stars in her own series by Deaver.
Deaver’s latest protagonist, Colter Shaw, makes his debut in The Never Game. And we certainly have not seen the last of this intriguing character.
Raised by a survivalist father, Shaw is an expert in tracking, once animals and now people. Rather than put his skills to work by becoming a police officer, Shaw responds to cases where someone is offering a reward. In The Never Game, Frank Mulliner’s daughter Sophie has disappeared and he’s put up $10,000 to anyone who can find her. The hunt takes Shaw into the heart of Silicon Valley where the tech boom has made some people very, very rich, and others are sleeping in their cars.
Mulliner lives in an area that was once considered upscale, but rising costs have forced many of the residents to move out. A foreclosure sign is posted on the house next to that of the missing young woman. Learning that someone earns a living by cashing in on rewards that people – often desperate people – scrape together to find a love one, might cause many to show Shaw the door. But Mulliner needs little convincing. He likes Shaw’s forthright manner and his track record. The fact that law enforcement has done little to find Sophie, makes Mulliner’s decision easy. Shaw just may be able to do what the police have failed to do – find Sophie.
Mulliner is adamant that Sophie is not a runaway. “Fee (his nickname for his daughter) wouldn’t leave Luka,” her poodle. Shaw’s hunt begins at the last place Sophie was seen, the Quick Byte Cafe in Mountain View, the locals catered to by mom, Tiffany, and daughter, Madge. Security video shows that Sophie arrived on her bike, came into the cafe for coffee and something to eat, then got on her bike and rode away. What Shaw focuses on, however, is a figure in dark sweats who seemed to be checking out Sophie’s bike while she was in the cafe.
In the video, Sophie looked like she was angry, clenching and unclenching her fists, before riding off. (Mulliner told Shaw that he and his daughter had argued about having to move.) Shaw guesses she was planning to blow off steam on a bike ride. He picks up her trail in San Miguel Park and finds not only a shard of plastic, part of the reflector on her bike, but also her phone. If Shaw thought his discoveries would result in police flooding the area to find Sophie, he was wrong. He returns to the park, convinced that if Sophie was knocked off her bike and thrown into the trunk of a car, the kidnapper wouldn’t take her far. A nearby abandoned storage facility seems a likely place to either hold Sophie or dump a body. But Shaw’s search is interrupted by the appearance of Sophie’s boyfriend, Kyle. Shots ring out, Kyle is killed, and Shaw sees Sophie running away.
Shaw does rescue Sophie and returns her virtually unharmed to a very grateful father. But Kyle’s death as well as news of yet another kidnapping means the nightmare is just beginning. Returning to the cafe, Shaw meets Maddie Poole, a gamer, who takes him to a video gaming conference. Shaw soon begins to see a pattern. The perpetrator is playing a real life version of The Whispering Man, a video game where participants are given five items to help them escape. (Sophie was locked in a room with water, an empty glass bottle, a wad of cloth, a spool of fishing line, and matches.) With each level, escaping becomes more difficult. The second victim is taken to a remote forest, the third placed on a sinking ship. Can Shaw find and save them all?
Finding who is behind the crimes takes Shaw into the world of video gaming. Deaver is tapping into a popular field, with revenues nearing $150 billion a year. Those who play the games will enjoy all the references, while those who are not fans will learn what all the excitement is about.
Sprinkled throughout the book are flashbacks to Shaw’s childhood, what he learned and what he survived being raised by an authoritarian father. There are mysteries surrounding his father, something that was buried on his land that people are willing to kill to recover. And there’s more to Shaw than meets the eye. While he chases the rewards, the honor graduate of the University of Michigan has other sources of income. What are they?
Until Shaw’s next outing, Deaver hooks us by leaving all these questions dangling. We’ll take the bait.
The Never Game