(12. – 899.) The Steel Kiss by Jeffery Deaver – One of the modern masters of the twist in the plot Deaver starts early in this Lincoln Rhyme mystery. In the opening pages he reveals Rhyme has retired as a forensic officer for the NYPD. I certainly was not anticipating the retirement. Those regular characters still in the Department such as Amelia Sachs and Ron Pulaski are frustrated with Rhyme’s decision. While they miss their interaction with the quadriplegic Rhyme they really miss having his lab available for their investigations.
Sachs is tracking in a mall the suspect in a killing by a ball-peen hammer when she is startled by the screams of a man who has fallen inside an escalator and is being shredded by the powerful gears. The top step of the escalator had flipped up. As we all ride escalators it is a frightening thought that an escalator could just open up in front of you. By the time Sachs can stop the escalator motor the trapped man is dead and the unsub has disappeared.
Rhyme gets involved with what happened with the escalator when he joins the legal team for the deceased wife looking for defendants to sue for the wrongful death of her husband.
Unable as a civilian investigator to examine the actual escalator, the police will not allow access, Rhyme comes up with a brilliant idea. He leases an escalator of the same type and finds a way to fit into the foyer of his apartment! Having the escalator in the apartment they can investigate it for reasons for the malfunction.
In the meantime, the unsub a tall, very slender man, pursues other victims. He is creepy and clever rivaling other wicked villains in the series. Deaver delves into his personality and life. He refers to the police searching for him and others as “shoppers”.
The next surprise in the plot is the introduction of forensic student, Juliette Archer, who convinces Rhyme to let her intern with him. She is also in a wheelchair, the Storm Arrow, like Rhyme. Just as determined to succeed as Rhyme, despite her limitations, she is keenly intelligent and not shy to share her insights.
As the investigations proceed they determine the unsub has found a way to remotely take over the wi-fi or Bluetooth controls of a host of consumer devices such as microwaves, stoves and baby monitors. While the manufacturer of the controls has sent out safety patches they are often not installed on appliances and other devices already sold.
It is a brilliant disturbing thought that criminals can control devices inside your home or business while located a half block or further away.
As the unsub, calling himself online the People’s Guardian, launches attacks fear, verging on panic, grips Manhattan.
Despite myself I found I was admiring the cleverness of the People’s Guardian. He was outsmarting an immensely talented and resourced team pursuing him. Is it perverse to want to read about brilliant villains? Maybe a post on the topic is in order.
The book had a superb start and excellent themes but it dragged for me. Most Rhyme mysteries have drawn me swiftly through the book but not The Steel Kiss. It could have done with some editing and the elimination of a personal subplot. If the next book in the series weighs in at 572 pages I know I will hesitate to read it.
For now, it will be awhile before I can be comfortable with the thought of how many devices in my house are at risk of remote control. Deaver describes our vulnerability:
“Hacking. Finding a weakness, and, well, exploiting it. You know the refrigerator hack from a few years ago? This was epic. A product line of smart fridges was running some old software written for PCs. Hackers got inside and turned the controller into a spambot. Refrigerators around the world were writing and sending penis-enhancement emails and vitamin offers to millions of addresses. The homeowners never knew.”