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Speak of the Devil
These days, Jeffery Deaver is best known for the popular series of suspense novels (The Bone Collector, The Coffin Dancer, The Empty Chair) featuring quadriplegic forensic genius Lincoln Rhyme. But Deaver has also written a number of excellent stand-alone novels during the course of his career, including Praying for Sleep and -- my own personal favorite -- A Maiden's Grave. His latest, Speaking in Tongues, is another effective independent novel that offers an unpredictable, furiously paced story of murder, madness, and the limitless power of language.
Two figures, each blessed with uncommon powers of persuasion, dominate the narrative. The first is Tate Collier, a lawyer and gentleman farmer whose oratorical abilities once made him the most successful prosecuting attorney in Fairfax County, Virginia. The second is Aaron Matthews, a powerfully seductive former therapist whose tragic past -- and long-standing history of mental instability -- lead him to devise a complex scenario whose ultimate goal is the destruction of Tate Collier.
By the time the novel opens, Tate's once charmed life has drifted sharply off center. He is divorced, no longer practices criminal law, and has grown increasingly estranged from his troubled teenage daughter, Megan McCall, who has developed more than her share of emotional and psychological problems. The story begins when Aaron, posing as a "substitute" therapist, kidnaps Megan and hides her away in the crumbling, gothic ruins of a deserted mental institution in the Blue Ridge mountains. In the aftermath of that kidnapping, Tate, together with his former wife, embarks on a desperate quest to locate his daughter and to understand the origins of an apparently pointless crime.
Speaking in Tongues contains an oddly engaging combination of elements. On the surface, it is an unabashed thriller filled with unexpected plot reversals and narrative sleight-of-hand. Beneath that surface, it is an extended meditation on the art of manipulation and on language as the most potent -- and versatile -- of weapons.
In essence, Speaking in Tongues recounts a series of elaborate seductions, beginning with Megan's kidnapping and ending with a fatal confrontation between two master manipulators with radically different agendas. It isn't, by any means, a perfect novel -- the prose occasionally seems hasty, and a number of incidents stretch credibility past the breaking point -- but it's original, provocative, and a great deal of fun. At the very least, it should keep Deaver's many readers happy until the next Lincoln Rhyme adventure comes along.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).