As might be expected of a Jeffery Deaver novel, the title of The Cutting Edge can be read in various ways – as a reference to the shaping of gem stones, as a nod to our killer’s affection for his box knife or as a confirmation of the highly honed skills of his protagonists, Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs. For all of these “cutting edges” are evident from the very beginning of this, the 15th of his thrillers featuring Rhyme and Sachs.
Rhyme, in particular, is an unlikely investigator, wheelchair bound after an accident rendered him quadriplegic. Determined it will not obstruct his obsession with criminal investigations, he now runs a state-of-the-art lab in his home, where he is married to erstwhile colleague Sachs. If Rhyme directs the investigations, Sachs, no slouch herself, is his “eyes” at the crime scene, carrying out the methodical exploration of the evidence that is their forensics speciality. Readers of the earlier titles will know that they are a formidable team.
The Cutting Edge gets off to a dramatic start. Newly engaged William and Anna are on their way to collect “the ring”, a 1.5 carat, princess-cut diamond, virtually flawless and of almost perfect clarity. It is a very fine stone, one fit for the cutting workshop of Jatin Patel, an immigrant from western India and one of the world’s top polishers.
As William and Anna enter the building, they wonder: “Is it safe?” The front door is greasy, the lift is shaky, there are no visible security cameras – and there is someone close behind them. Is this really the heart of a multimillion dollar trade?
Within minutes William, Anna and Patel are dead.
Enter Vimal Lahori, Patel’s diamond carrier and finest cutter. When the intruder pulls a gun on him and shoots, Vimal is protected by the bag of “rocks” he is carrying. Injured, he escapes and phones in anonymously a description of his employer’s killer.
Then he goes to ground, wanted by Sachs and Rhyme because of his sighting of the killer and because they want to protect him; wanted by the killer because he is the only living witness to the murders.
The Cutting Edge, as I have said, starts well. Deaver is known for his meticulous research and the diamond cutting and polishing background has an unmistakable air of authenticity. There is plenty of drama and plenty of intrigue in the opening 50 pages or so.
At the core of the questions posed is motive. The intruder targets a diamond dealer but leaves hundreds of thousands of dollars of gems untouched. Theft cannot be his chief purpose – so what is? There appears to be no personal connection between the murderer and his victims, so some sort of bigger issue must be at stake.
And it is at around this point, I think, that The Cutting Edge starts to lose its way. In an effort to give his killer a cause, Deaver creates a scenario so improbable that interest flags.
I am not going to spell out the details here; suffice it to say that it involves an obsession with diamonds as a “sacred” and unpollutable product of the earth, an attempt to create earthquakes in New York via a drilling operation, and some improbable double identities.
None of this adds up to an even vaguely credible scenario and the initial impetus created by the opening scenes soon dissipates.
Ironically, The Cutting Edge loses its cutting edge.
I have a lot of respect for Deaver as a writer. Previous books I have read have been enjoyable and when I interviewed him some years ago I found him charming, courteous and highly intelligent. Reading the latter stages of The Cutting Edge, I began to wonder if this was the problem: that Deaver is in fact far too intelligent to be content with a basic thriller format and simply cannot resist adding layers of intrigue and complexity that go nowhere simply to keep himself amused.
The Cutting Edge starts with ample promise but 100 pages in, its chief purpose is blunted. And there are a further 300 pages to go.
None of this, I suspect, will stop Deaver and Lincoln Rhyme fans from rushing to the nearest bookshop to get hold of this latest offering. And neither should it. Deaver is a highly professional writer and despite my obvious reservations there are sufficient hooks and intrigues to keep many readers interested, including a rather unexpected attempt by an FBI agent to get Rhyme behind bars.
I doubt, though, that The Cutting Edge would encourage many new readers to explore Deaver’s back catalogue – and that is a shame, for there is much pleasure to be found there.
The Cutting Edge
Author: Jeffery Deaver
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, crime fiction