Rhymes, whose physical condition after a terrible accident has left him bound to a wheelchair, is working on a case in Europe - an attempt to outfox an old enemy - when he learns that his estranged cousin Arthur has been charged with first-degree murder. Turning his and his team's full analytic and investigative attention to this shocking turn of events, Rhymes proceeds with the knowledge that (1) the charge is backed up with undeniable evidence and (2) there's no way Arthur could have done it. So just how is this frameup being perpetrated?
After a close examination of the crime's details, particularly the source of the pay phone call to 911 that brought law enforcement down on Arthur, Rhymes and Sachs wonder if the perp has struck before with the same modus operandi . When they find a previous murder that parallels this one in its operational aspects, their frameup theory gains ground and they open a file on the killer, referring to him as "522," for the date.
The questions lead the team to the obscure practice of data mining and to SSD, Strategic Systems Datacorp, a company in the business of selling information obtained by advanced technical methods to record every detail of people's lives from thousands of sources. Reducing people to 16-digit codes, its system canvases such places as credit card companies, banks, government records, stores, court clerks, DMV departments, hospitals, insurance companies and RFID chips that are planted in products to transmit an ongoing stream of data about the product owner's movements.
But 522's string of robberies/rapes/murders/frameups challenges all assumptions. How is he penetrating the system's "data pens" which are cross referenced and guarded electronically 24/7? An unauthorized breach would require an intruder to hit at least three or four separate servers. Only senior officers of the firm have such access, and, to Rhyme and company, they're the first of the suspects.
As Deaver spins his tale, he enters the mind of his killer, providing us with a running monologue of his thoughts, plans and collective psychoses. We see the villain referring to people as "sixteens," in the parlance of SSD's techie lingo. The author also keeps us apprised of Arthur Rhyme's gruesome experiences in prison in chapters alternating with the detectives' ongoing analytic process that may be the most exacting in the crime fiction genre - certainly the most reliant on discipline and brainpower with a side-specialty of intuition.
Deaver's own level of acute craftsmanship is reflected as much in the intellectual worthiness of his antagonist as in his heroes, concocting challenges that live high on the scale of cunning and genius. The resulting body of work places him at or comfortably near the top of anyone's list of major mystery authors - a position that shows no sign of diminishment. Deaver is an author who habitually gives you 400 pages of keen pursuit and, always, your money's worth.
As for the level of data mining Deaver describes, for the moment we can relax. It isn't at the technological level that the story suggests just yet. But, it may not be that far away, either. It's something our politicians might want to ponder and they might want to start their considerations with The Broken Window.