Jefferey Deaver is one of my original favorites in the fiction world alongside Dean Koontz (yes, I was into him before Stephen King!), Vince Flynn and Lee Child. I’ve always been a fan of his work, which seemed particularly crafty, witty and always fooled me. Plus, he has great longtime characters in Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs as a duo (alongside other great side characters) and Kathryn Dance. I actually included Rhyme among my favorite four fictional characters in a post a couple of years ago.
So, anyhow, when I saw Deaver’s 2021 book, The Midnight Lock, at the bookstore, I couldn’t resist. It’s been a while since I’ve read one of his novels. In fact, 2016’s The Steel Kiss might be the last one I read? I’m not sure exactly. Is it possible to be nostalgic for a beloved author? Yes, yes it is because that’s what led me to catching up on, and binging Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels recently. Maybe that’ll happen here with Deaver, too. I see he has another character I’m not sure I’ve read any of, Colter Shaw.
The Midnight Lock is the 15th Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs novel. This one has quite the intricate web and (to mix metaphors) moving pieces going on. There’s the Locksmith, a criminal whose fascination with breaking locks is terrorizing New York City; there’s Lincoln Rhyme being taken off as a consultant with the New York City Police Department by the mayor due to an apparent fumbling of a gangster murder case and because politics is dumb; and then there’s this side murder of a man by an alleged homeless individual.
What I love about Deaver is that he gets into the nitty-gritty of things; it almost seems like he’s mastered whatever the thing is with his antagonists. The Locksmith is all about locks and it sure seems like Deaver did his research to unlock the Locksmith’s fascination with locks. I would surmise there are two elements to the Locksmith’s sociopathic fascination with locks: 1.) There’s a sexual element to it — to getting inside — and the Locksmith did start as a peeping tom, after all; and 2.) The same reason people for thousands of years have broken into places: to see if they could. Humans love solving puzzles and what more classic puzzle to solve than a locked door?
Along the way of Rhyme and Sachs’ investigation, we get introduced to what seems like someone who may be a reoccurring character on the team: Lyle Spencer, who is reminiscent of Jack Reacher, speaking of him. He’s the most muscular man Rhyme said he’s ever seen. He’s a former Navy SEAL and a cop, but who was briefly in prison due to stealing money to pay for his dying child’s rare illness. I like him already.
There’s a great scene in the book where Spencer, due to his Navy SEAL training, is able to climb a 100-foot rope to a burning building and rescue Ron Pulaski, the rookie cop who works with Rhyme and Sachs.
But there’s an even better, unexpectedly intimate scene later between Rhyme and Spencer, which might have been my favorite of the entire novel. Before coming back down the rope, Spencer stood on the ledge of the window, appearing to Rhyme as if he was going to jump and kill himself. Rhyme discusses this with Spencer because he can relate to wanting to die because of his quadriplegic status. I just thought that was a beautiful moment between two tough, stern men. I appreciated that quiet, honest and raw moment provided by Deaver.
Of course, the Locksmith’s ultimate target becomes Rhyme himself, not only because Rhyme is a brilliant forensic criminalist who seems to be getting closer and closer to catching him, but because in his eyes, Rhyme needs to be “unlocked.” That is, the Locksmith sees Rhyme as being “locked” to his wheelchair and by killing Rhyme, he can unlock him, or “free him,” as he states.
However, throughout the entire book, Rhyme and Sachs truly are one step ahead of everybody, the Locksmith included: They are able to snare the Locksmith in Rhyme’s own townhome with a ruse; they are able to arrest Joanna Whittaker, the niece to billionaire media mogul, Averell Whittaker (basically, a Rupert Murdoch type because he owns a scandalous rag of a newspaper and television station) and her mealy mouthed husband; and they are able to trick a mole within the NYPD itself, a higher-up named Brett Evans, who was in the pocket of gangster Viktor Buryak (and then get the gangster on a murder charge, too!)
I actually liked that because in all three of those scenarios, Rhyme and Sachs were ahead of me as well! I love being fooled, despite how long I’ve been reading mystery crime novels and my reading of Deaver at that, I can still be fooled. That’s the fun of it, in my view.
My initial thinking was that Kitt Whittaker, Averell’s estranged son, was the Locksmith because of wanting to take revenge out on his father. It turns out that Joanna, also a sociopath, was behind it all along. She wanted control of the company and revenge against Averell for squeezing her father out of the company.
In addition, she didn’t like that Averell had a late-in-life change of heart and was going to liquidate the entire billion-dollar company and funnel that money into an ethics in journalism foundation and with helping to get minorities into journalism. He had high-minded ideas of stopping “fake news” with fact-checkers. (We see how well that’s going with Facebook; my quick opinion is that stopping the dissemination of fake news is not only largely impossible, but not even something we should set as a goal, but I digress.)
This book is very much in the milieu of its time, with commentary and analysis about the spread of fake news and how to deal with that. In no other instance is that more the case than with Joanna’s secret anonymous character online (through ViewNow, the YouTube equivalent in the book and for which the Locksmith works at as a content moderator, or as he calls it, playing God; that’s also how he learns about his would-be victims’ houses, by seeing the videos they post), Vernun.
She crafts this identity for Vernun as a truth-teller, telling her followers about The Hidden, a conspiracy that entangles everyone in city government and who are even working with the Locksmith to implant CIA devices in people’s houses.
Essentially, Vernun is Deaver’s replication of the Q conspiracy phenomenon in real life and how people on the internet will believe anything if it evokes the right phraseology and touches the right buttons, or comes down to a simple “us vs. them,” and how the “us” know the real truth about “them.”
Between the lock-breaking intricacies, the usual fascinating forensics breakthroughs with Rhyme and Sachs, the cat-and-mouse game Deaver sketches so well and the relevant commentary on the dissemination of “fake news,” I thought Deaver’s book was a breezy, fun mystery romp.
The only thing I didn’t quite understand, and maybe I missed something, is that Aaron Douglass was working undercover with the NYPD to bring down Buryak from the inside. Was he bad or not? He seemed to tip off Evans to the ruse Rhyme and Sachs had set-up (not knowing it was one), so does that mean he was actually bad, too? Because at the end, he tries to kill Sachs and she ends up killing him.
Or was that a ruse, too? A way to fake Douglass’s death, so that he could finally move on from Buryak? I’m not sure!
Anyhow, if you’re a Deaver fan, I’m speaking to the choir about how good this book is, and I’d love your own reaction to the book and/or theory on Douglass; and if you’re not a Deaver fan, but would like to start, go ahead and start here! You don’t have to jump 15 books previous to get started with Rhyme and Lincoln.
You’ll catch on to their characters and dynamic quick enough, that’s for sure.