PAPERBACKS: Watch your neck around Deaver’s plot twists

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IN Roadside Crosses (Pocket, 548 pages, $13), by American thriller king Jeffery Deaver, someone is putting up crosses along a California highway.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/04/2010 (4692 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

IN Roadside Crosses (Pocket, 548 pages, $13), by American thriller king Jeffery Deaver, someone is putting up crosses along a California highway.

These usually commemorate an automobile-related death, but here’s the spooky thing: on these crosses, the dates have yet to come around. Someone is signalling that a death is about to occur.

Kathryn Dance, of the California Bureau of Investigation, has the extremely difficult task of finding out who’s responsible for the roadside crosses, and for the deaths that are yet to come. As usual, Deaver packs the book with plenty of suspense and several neck-wrenching plot twists.

He’s like a magician: he gets you looking in one direction, and then he pulls something out of thing air over in the other direction.

Dance, in her second starring role (after 2007’s Sleeping Doll), proves that she could be as strong a series anchor as Deaver’s better-known creation, Lincoln Rhyme.

— — —

Michael Palmer, the Massachusetts physician-turned-writer, has a knack for creating intricate mysteries that revolve around their characters, and not overly familiar gimmicks or mindless action scenes.

In The Second Opinion (St. Martin’s, 420 pages, $12), physician Thea Sperelakis’s father is the victim of a hit-and-run; now in a coma, he can communicate only with his daughter, and only by moving one of his eyes.

Slowly, Thea pieces together the truth behind her father’s accident, and behind a series of suspicious deaths. But exposing the villains could mean exposing herself to certain death.

The novel is very suspenseful, with a solid story and well-drawn characters. Thea, in particular, is most intriguing. She suffers from Asperger syndrome, which gives her an obsession with details, a near-encyclopedic memory, and a rather charming awkwardness in social settings.

The novel is not merely a thriller but also an exploration of its central character’s unique gifts and her determination to communicate with her comatose father despite overwhelming odds. Another winner from a consistently fine writer.

— — —

In The Serialist (Simon & Schuster, 335 pages, $20), debut novelist David Gordon tells the fascinating story of Harry Bloch, a prolific writer of shlock fiction under a series of pen names.

When a convicted serial killer asks Harry to ghost-write his autobiography, Harry jumps at the chance. Of course, he didn’t count on jumping headlong into a real-life murder mystery, too.

If you can judge a writer’s abilities by a single novel, then you’d have to say that Gordon, who lives in New York City, is terrifically talented.

He deftly mixes humour and drama, telling a rather grisly story with an offbeat style that makes us laugh, and then makes us feel a bit uncomfortable that we were laughing. Not just a good first novel, but an excellent novel, period.

— — —

Another wonderful debut is The Unknown Knowns (Scribner, 258 pages, $20), by Brooklyn’s Jeffrey Rotter. It’s the tragicomic tale of Jim Rath, a man with a, shall we say, unique obsession: he believes humans evolved from aquatic apes.

When he encounters a member of the lost race of Nautikons, just walking around as if he were a regular human, Jim sees an opportunity to prove to the world (and especially to his ex-wife) that he’s not crazy.

The novel is a masterpiece of absurdist fiction. Jim is a buffoon and a weirdo, and everybody knows it except him. The story is silly, but in that charming way that pulls you into the story and keeps you reading, even as you’re thinking it’s just foolish.

The story is narrated by Jim, who definitely has his own point of view: his world is a spectacularly demented place, but also completely captivating. Just like the book.

Halifax freelancer David Pitt’s column appears the first weekend of every month.

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