XO by Jeffery Deaver

I’ve been indulging in some much-needed crime fiction lately–I realised midway through the year that not only was I embarrassingly behind in my goal to read 50 books by the end of the year, I had also not touched a crime novel in 2012. I seem to have bought loads, though, and the hard part was picking which one to start. I’m really pleased XO was near the top of my pile–I hadn’t read a Deaver novel in a while (the last was Manhattan is my Beat in 2011) and from what I’ve heard, this is his best in a while. I certainly think it’s one of the better crime novels of the past 12 months.

I learnt something new about Mr Deaver while reading XO. In his spare time, Deaver is a musician. Fans of his novels will know that he’s not shy about his love for country-western music; he often provides his characters with a deep love of the music, and a dedicated novel about a country-pop singer will surprise no one. Kayleigh Towne is a small town singer who has become a huge success, yet she remains very down to earth. Kayleigh has attracted all sorts of attention as her career has grown and in XO, Deaver takes us for a journey through fame’s ugly side.

A stalker named Edwin Sharpe has become attached to Kayleigh. He has written to her countless times over the years, has (delightfully) sent her locks of his hair, and has deluded himself into thinking that she is in love with him. He also has an innate ability to be omnipresent and omniscient. He knows where Kayleigh will be, he knows how she will react, and when Kayleigh announces a concert in her home town of Fresno, Sharpe isn’t far behind. Also in town is Deaver’s second-most-popular protagonist, Kathryn Dance. Dance, an expert in body language and human behaviour, is in town on holiday and knows the Towne family well.

Sharpe’s presence is concerning, but as long as he keeps his legally-required distance, he is harmless. Or is he? When one of Kayleigh’s road crew is killed in a nightmare ‘accident’, all attention falls on Sharpe as Dance becomes involved in the investigation. With a rock solid alibi, Sharpe is free to go. But the ‘accidents’ keep occurring, each death preceded by an ominous verse from Kayleigh’s lyrics. Red herrings and clues are rampant and Deaver’s main man, quadriplegic forensic scientist Lincoln Rhyme makes an appearance to help piece the case together. When the final scene plays out, you’ll be holding your breath on the edge of your seat. I can’t think of any more clichés right now, but prepare yourself for one of the most shocking and thrilling finales from a true  master of the genre.

If anything, XO reaffirmed for me why I steer clear of technical, forensic-based stories in favour of more psychological, whodunnit styles. Rhyme’s presence will be enjoyed by Deaver’s fans, however I found the technical nature of his involvement too complicated and difficult to follow. No matter, Deaver is one of the world’s best-selling crime authors for a reason. And if he keeps writing novels like XO, he will continue to be one into the future.

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