2017 marks the twentieth anniversary of the introduction of Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme novels. The series began with The Bone Collector, which was made into a film in 1999 starring Denzel Washington as the quadriplegic criminal forensic scientist. During his investigation of a damaged building, a falling beam crushed two vertebrae in his neck, leaving him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Only the efforts of Amelia Sachs, a rookie cop played by Angelina Jolie in the film, who promised to be his eyes and legs if he would let her pick his brain, restored his willingness to continue his lifetime work.
The Burial Hour finds Rhyme in his Central Park West townhouse trying to plan his long awaited honeymoon with Amelia. The newlyweds receive news of a bold kidnapping in broad daylight on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. A businessman from San Diego has been thrust into the trunk of a car. A sharp-eyed schoolgirl on her way to class has noticed that the kidnapper has left a calling card on the sidewalk: a hangman’s noose woven from the E-string of a cello.
Deaver relates the story from the perspective of both the investigators and the kidnapper, and this one is a strange duck. Haunted by voices in his head, he sees himself as serving his mistress, the Greek muse of music Euterpe. He records the gasps of his prisoner and uses them to create the downbeat for his own performance on the organ of Strauss’s Blue Danube. Then he tightens the noose (also made of instrument strings) around the captive’s neck and hoists him up so his feet are just touching a two-foot-high slippery stone. Then he turns on the camera and posts the spectacle on YouVid, complete with his nom de guerre, “The Composer”.
Good detective work and an analysis of the footprints that The Composer left on the sidewalk at the crime scene allow the police to rescue the victim before he expires. But the crime scene reveals no trace, not even DNA or fingerprints, of who The Composer might be.
Skip forward a day to the Campanian countryside outside Naples. Ercole Benelli of the Forestry Police is closing in on his target—a truffle smuggler—when he is interrupted by a cyclist who has just witnessed a kidnapping at a nearby bus stop. The smuggler escapes, so Benelli follows the cyclist back to the scene of the kidnapping. It turns out that the victim is a refugee from Libya who has recently arrived in Italy and has been staying at a large refugee camp on the outskirts of Naples.
Benelli finds a noose woven from a musical string. He has read the Europol alerts and knows that a similar memento was found at the kidnapping scene in New York. The Italian police call the NYPD to find out what they know.
The NYPD does not do anything by halves. Rhyme, Sachs, and Reston are dispatched to Naples. The Italian prosecutor does not really want any part of the Americans. But as Rhyme leaves the initial interview he tells the Italians half a dozen things they did not yet know about their own case. It becomes clear that the visitors will be very helpful. And that is when the action really takes off.
There are more kidnappings and more heroic police work, with a complication involving an American student who has been accused of the rape and murder of a Dutch student that he meets at a party. He swears he is innocent in spite of overwhelming forensic evidence. Rhyme and his companions are dragged into this case as well.
Deaver clearly likes to tease his audience. The case appears to be solved with only a few loose threads to tidy up. But when the investigators start to tug on those threads, the fabric of the case unravels revealing a more sinister plot with little time available to solve it before serious damage is done. On the whole this is a clever and engrossing story, with some interesting asides about both the history and the geography of Naples and the region of Campania. Part of the fun is the description of the interaction of the various investigative groups in the two countries and within each country—what Sachs drolly describes as “jurisdictional pissing matches.”
The Burial Hour references the current refugee crisis, with an Italian politician at one point suggesting that original Europeans are being buried by the influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.
This is the thirteenth of the Lincoln Rhyme stories, of which the BLL now has ten, including one in Large Print. You can find them in the Adult English D2856 section. And we can expect more to come. The end of The Burial Hour finds Rhyme negotiating with an agent of the CIA who would like to broaden their repertoire of HUMINT, SIGINT and ELINT (human, signals and electronic intelligence) to include EVIDINT. It would seem that no one at the CIA has ever read Stan Lee’s 1985 classic Dunn’s Conundrum!
P.S. Avid followers of Canada Reads will know that Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis prevailed, becoming the first book to win both the Scotiabank Giller Prize and Canada Reads. The contenders are all available at the Lennoxville Library, and, for those seeking a personal copy, some are to be had at Black Cat Books, also in Lennoxville.