Review of 'Edge,' a new thriller by Jeffery Deaver

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By Art Taylor
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, December 14, 2010; 10:02 PM

EDGE

By Jeffery Deaver.

Simon & Schuster.

397 pp. $26.99

Corte, the protagonist of Jeffery Deaver's new thriller, is a "shepherd" for a shadowy Alexandria-based organization known for offering "bodyguards of last resort." His job involves watching over "principals" - trial witnesses, whistleblowers and others - who've been targeted either by "hitters" (assassins) or by "lifters" seeking information and willing to resort to "physical extraction" to get it. The jargon suggests that this agency is another of today's deadening, dehumanizing bureaucracies - and the truth is, those "principals" are considered by their shepherds as just so many packages, "a dozen eggs . . . crystal vases, lightbulbs. Consumer goods." But the work takes on even bleaker tones when the bad guys enter the picture. For them, torture is simply part of an afternoon's chores: filing another corpse in the "out" box.

Corte's latest assignment poses several problems. D.C. cop Ryan Kessler - a new principal - can't fathom why he's been targeted: Does a forgery case involving a Pentagon analyst threaten national security? Is an apparent Ponzi scheme a front for funding terrorism? Equally pressing: The lifter here, Henry Loving, murdered Corte's mentor, and Corte is torn between the conflicting duties of babysitting his charges and bringing a killer to justice.

Along with a complex investigation and a dangerous cat-and-mouse game, "Edge" also boasts some high-stakes political drama: pressure both from the attorney general's office, boosting its own agenda with Kessler's case, and from a Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry into Corte's methods.

An aficionado of games, Corte studies strategies, ponders game theory and works leverage. In the midst of it all, he recognizes one fundamental truth, which applies even to himself: "People will do anything to anybody - if the edge is right."

A few of the action scenes unfortunately echo one another too closely (read one car chase, read them all), and a pattern quickly develops: One section's hints and revelations are almost always reversed within a chapter or so. But if the timing of the plot shifts grows predictable, the surprises themselves don't. Swiftness and ruthlessness carry the book's momentum, keeping readers on the . . . well, check the title again.

Deaver really excels, though, when he completely withholds details. An early torture scene becomes harrowing precisely because the gory bits are omitted, leaving our imaginations to do the dirty work. Though Corte narrates the book, he's an enigma too. He claims to be single and childless, but his musings hint at a wife and children somewhere in his past, and his reticence on those topics conjures up the worst.

Rumors are that "Edge" might kick off a new series for Deaver - a new direction from his Lincoln Rhyme detective novels and his spinoff series featuring interrogation expert Kathryn Dance. Corte's combination of professionalism and duplicity offer the chance for conflicts, both internal and external, to deepen. In the meantime, Deaver has been commissioned to write the next James Bond novel - a golden opportunity he's clearly earned.

Taylor reviews mysteries and thrillers frequently for The Post.


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