Jeffery Deaver’s THE SKIN COLLECTOR is his 11th Lincoln Rhyme novel. Long-time fans will notice that the title harkens back to THE BONE COLLECTOR, the novel that began the series and introduced us to Deaver’s best-known character. After 10 popular novels Deaver knows what his readers expect – and he dutifully delivers all strengths and, sadly, all of the weaknesses of this enduring series.
No sooner does Lincoln Rhyme, the quadriplegic yet brilliant and renowned criminalist, acknowledge the demise of a long-time nemesis when a new case is presented to him. Someone is luring random victims to the myriad tunnels under New York City and murdering them. The murder weapon is a tattoo on the victim’s exposed stomach.
Rhyme and Amilea Sachs, Rhyme’s beautiful lover and resourceful chief assistant investigator, quickly assemble their team and begin gathering and analyzing evidence from the crime scenes. They eventually learn that the killer has studied Rhyme’s career and escapes capture by anticipating Rhyme’s every move. As the case continues, and more victims are added, Rhyme and his team uncover the meaning of the killer’s mysterious tattoos, as well as his frightening master plan.
All the usual Lincoln Rhyme story elements are here: the strange and gruesome murders; the white-board listings of evidence and their possible meaning as the case progresses; and the combination of online and old-school investigating techniques.
Then there’s Rhyme himself: still not suffering fools gladly; never missing an opportunity to correct an associate’s grammar or fuzzy thinking; and still impatient with the limitations of his static, wheelchair-bound body but even more impatient with his inability to instantly know the killer’s method and motive.
If any of the main characters demonstrates any progression, it is Sachs as she confronts her conflicting emotions about a young woman she previously rescued and has protected over the years who now rebels against Sachs’s protection.
And what about the numerous red herrings that are also part of every Rhyme story? They seem at first to have been replaced by cliff-hanger chapter endings where members of Rhyme’s team – and Rhyme himself – are threatened.
Then, in the final quarter of the novel, Deaver relentlessly piles on revelation after revelation about the murderer and where his various killings are leading. It quickly becomes difficult to digest and seriously stretches the boundaries of the story’s credibility. Then too there is the overly-long coda which, while assuring us that one of Rhyme’s cases is not completely closed, is completely irrelevant to the novel’s main story.
These short-comings stand in sharp contract to what is otherwise a gripping story showing us a darker side of our contemporary fascination with skin illustrations and other body modifications.
None of this will prevent devoted Deaver fans from making this new work another in a long line of popular and successful thrillers. That’s fitting since despite its faults THE SKIN COLLECTOR is still difficult to put down and provides many satisfying hours of suspenseful reading. —Alan Cranis