The Steel Kiss

Written by Jeffrey Deaver

Review written by Robin Jarossi

The Steel Kiss
Hodder and Stoughton
RRP: £18.99
Released: March 22 2016

This is award-winning writer Jeffery Deaver’s 12th novel about the adventures of Lincoln Rhyme, his quadriplegic forensic investigator. The series started with the character’s debut in The Bone Collector, which was, of course, made into the 1999 thriller starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.

In The Steel Kiss, Rhyme has left the police force to become an investigator for civil cases, creating a degree of separation between himself and his long-term collaborator, detective Amelia Sachs. She is on the trail of a killer and is about to nab him in a fast-food joint, when a freak accident occurs leaving a customer trapped horribly in the gears of an escalator.

Meanwhile, Rhyme struggles to work out who was responsible for the escalator malfunction so that the victim’s impoverished widow can get compensation. The first half of the story involving Rhyme’s delving into the workings of the escalator is very dry indeed.

Other strands to the story include the first-person narration of the Sach's psycho, distinctively tall and skinny; and the reappearance in her life of Nick Carelli, her one-time lover and colleague who went to jail for robbery and assault. The thriller’s overall theme is the current hot topic of the Internet’s penetration of our lives via network-connectivity, including household devices – and their potential misuse remotely.

Early on in the story, Rhymes says: ‘With criminalistics – forensic science – there is not a single crime that cannot be solved'. That kind of thinking has imbued forensics in fiction and on TV with a near-sacrosanct status. A smidge of DNA is often the magic bullet leading to conviction, a pubic hair is a cherished silent witness, and CSI technicians single-handedly track down and arrest evil-doers with the application of science. This hyping of forensic science has famously caused the CSI effect, whereby juries in the US request DNA evidence even when it is superfluous (the accused, for instance, admits he was at the scene).

In The Steel Kiss the reader is treated as though they are a forensic sleuth. There are many pages devoted to long discussions about forensics and evidence lists with entries such as this: ‘Soil sample, likely from unsub, containing crystalline aluminosilicate clays: montmorillonite, illite, vermiculite, chlorite, kaolinite, additionally, organic colloids…’ And so on. Presumably we are meant to study such lists, while caressing our chins pondering the chemical properties before us. Or perhaps we just skip over them?

Judging a series novel like this has its problems. Devotees of Lincoln Rhyme are presumably well up to speed with the hinterland of the principal characters. But anyone coming to the series fresh with The Steel Kiss might find them a bit flat. Rhyme himself displays little inner life here for much of the story, his two character traits seeming to be impatience and annoyance, with the imprecise use of English. Sachs does come alive with the appearance of Nick Carelli, whose quest to prove his innocence is a juicy, if underplayed, storyline. Perhaps the most vivid character is that of the killer, whose first-person narrative is lurid but immediate.

It is hard to argue with Deaver's spectacular success – more than 20million books sold. However, for forensics fans looking to get into Rhyme’s world, it might be better to start with The Bone Collector and work towards The Steel Kiss.


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