There was a time when Jeffery Deaver’s books were day one reads for me – instant purchases, to be devoured and enjoyed. My enthusiasm for his books has waxed and waned over the years, though, as Deaver has turned more and more formulaic, and for every great read he writes (The Kill Room, The October List), he turns out a few generic, forgettable, or even bad ones (Trouble in Mind, Roadside Crosses).
And so, when I first started to read The Steel Kiss, I got annoyed with what I felt like were Deaver’s usual tropes – the obvious misleads and feints, the half truths – and quit. But I’m glad I went back to The Steel Kiss, because what I got as I read was an engaging, really fun read, and a firmer grip on what Deaver has become over the years: basically, he’s become CSI or NCIS, the very shows I always felt like his books inspired, complete with the rhythms and patterns that come along with such entertainment.
Now, with that being said, there’s no denying the fun that can come out of a Deaver book. The Steel Kiss is simple but effective, following Rhyme as he helps out with a civil case inspired by the horrific death of a man in a malfunctioning escalator. Meanwhile, Sachs is trying to track down an anti-consumerist killer who’s killing people using the devices that make their lives easier. Will these two cases come together? Of course they will. And does it all somehow connect a bit to Pulaski’s extracurricular activities with local drug dealers? More or less.
And yet, even while I recognized all the formulas at play, and many of Deaver’s usual tools and tricks, I enjoyed The Steel Kiss pretty well. Deaver’s made an effort to mix things up a little here and there in the series, and while this doesn’t result in the really fantastic read of The Kill Room, it’s still a lot of fun, delivering some good thrills, at least one genuinely big surprise (even if I rolled my eyes at the explanation afterward), and an engaging antagonist who kept me involved.
I don’t think Deaver is the favorite author for me that he was once, but I think I’ve realized along the way that it’s not that he’s gotten worse, either. It’s just that Deaver has a formula that works, by and large, and he’s pretty happy working in that formula. And while I prefer my books a little more adventurous, a little more original, there’s no denying the pleasure that comes from watching Deaver construct his puzzles and unravel the clues, nor the fun of watching him tie all of his various plot threads together in more elegant ways than you assumed – or the fun of being fooled by him, even when you think you have him figured out. Are these day one purchases for me anymore? No, not really…but will I buy them as the equivalent of beach reads? More than likely.