Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Keeper

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Keeper (Atria, 2014).

Can't help but spoil this one a little, friends. It's a doozy.

John Lescroart writes the very best legal mysteries in the business. His characters - a great family of friends centered around attorney Dismas Hardy and retired cop Abe Glitzky - shine like none others in the world of series fiction. I love the way that anybody from the group can take the lead role in an adventure. This time out, it's Abe's turn.

In The Keeper, a deputy at the San Francisco County jail comes to Dismas after five days of his wife being missing. Even though she has not been found, Abe's former colleagues at homicide have come around to begin the interview process, suspecting foul play. Abe has been stagnating since his enforced retirement in an earlier novel, so Dismas hires him to help find the wife and, if indeed she has been murdered, find the actual killer.

You wouldn't be surprised, after twenty-five years writing these characters - who age in real time! - if Lescroart started to rest a little bit and let the trappings of the cozies creep into his stories, like pretty much all his peers in the genre do. But he's constantly surprising readers with new left-field changes in the characters' lives, and still coming up with really terrific plot twists.

Take this one. Indeed, the wife has been murdered, and her death is connected to several others. We know that two characters, call 'em BAD GUYS X and Y, are behind it. The book is fifty pages from its conclusion when BAD GUY X is found dead in a car, victim of a self-inflicted gunshot. So the protagonists start looking into the probability that BAD GUY Y shot his partner and staged a suicide. Round about page 272, I suddenly got a tingle in the spine. I knew BAD GUY Y didn't do it. There were just enough tantalizing clues to make the readers see that FEMALE SUPPORTING PLAYER A did it. I didn't want it to be her. Twelve pages crept by like glaciers. Surely it was me misreading things. Thirteen. Nope. Couldn't have been BAD GUY Y. He has an alibi for the first killing. Had to be the lady. I winced the whole time, and exclaimed aloud. I never do that.

So Abe goes to talk to the lady. And IT IS NOT HER EITHER. It's an absolutely. completely brilliant bit of misdirection and I loved it to pieces. Have you ever seen the Mission: Impossible episode "The Mind of Stefan Miklos," I wonder? It's hailed as one of the best episodes of TV drama ever. In it, the team has to very subtly put clues together so that their target thinks he's put a puzzle together. They have to make him think that he has cleverly uncovered something which does not actually exist. It's unbearably complex and complicated - it makes absolutely no sense in a cut-up syndication copy because there's not thirty seconds of footage not critical to the plot - but anyway, what makes this so darn fun in The Keeper is that Lescroart is simultaneously bluffing the detectives in the narrative and bluffing the reader with asides and clues that they don't have. Double misdirection! I loved it to pieces.

Start with Dead Irish, if you haven't already. Highly, highly recommended.

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