The Coffin Dancer

The Coffin Dancer_JefferyDeaver_187499




The cargo jet was blown out of the sky on its approach to the Chicago airport. It wasn’t a terrorist act nor was it some twisted insurance scam even if the freight carrier was on the verge of bankruptcy. It was murder, plain and simple, of the pilot, who had reported to the FAA the unauthorized flight, from a closed airport, of a private jet owned by an arms dealer.

That pilot was not the only witness to the illegal flight. His wife and another company pilot were listed on the FAA report also. And the killer is not just any contract assassin who likes to work with explosives. He is a chameleon known to the NYPD and the FBI as the Coffin Dancer, the name taken from a macabre tattoo witnessed by one his few survivors. And the Dancer is not only proficient with disguises and explosives, he is a master with both a sniper rifle and a blade.

Most of all, the Dancer is responsible for the time-delayed explosion that took out a crime scene team working one of his hits several years previous. And for that reason, the NYPD asks Lincoln Rhyme, the quadriplegic CS division chief who had been in command at the time of the deaths, to aid them in finding the Dancer. They also want to prevent the deaths of the other two witnesses, of course, but the smell of revenge is clearly in the air.

For the next 400 pages or so, Jeffery Deaver takes Lincoln Rhyme; his assistant and protégé, Amelia Sachs; FBI special agent Fred Dellray; and the NYPD team of Sellitto, Banks and Cooper, through the evidence, the twists and turns, and particularly the roadblocks and dead ends. Deaver puts us into the mind of the assassin as much as into the minds of Rhyme and Sachs. And he puts us into the mind of Percey Clay, who is the second witness, the wife of the first victim, an accomplished pilot and aeronautical engineer, and the president of the air cargo company that she is determined to save even at the expense of her own life.

And then there are the twists of plot and the twists of fate that Deaver folds into the mix. Bad things happen to good people in this book, and Deaver knows how to write shame and guilt and fear. He also knows how to deftly mix the personal with the professional as well as the evidence with the gut feelings. And in that same vein, Deaver is able to take the technology of the time and  craft it as both problem and solution, weapon and savior.

This novel is a tense page-turner, one that can keep you up into the wee hours. While there is a great deal of aeronautical jargon in the story, it is a necessary part of the plot line, not just an info dump to prove that the author has done his research. And after finishing this book, you many never glance toward the cockpit of a plane, or its pilots, and view it with the same innocence that you do now.

But I didn’t choose this story for it aeronautical subplot; I chose it for its mystery plot. And I was not disappointed, not with a single page, even when I missed the main twist. In fact, not only did I miss it, I didn’t even suspect it. And that is a real compliment to an author when he or she can get an experienced mystery reader to say, “Well, I didn’t see that one coming!” However, I didn’t miss the twist in which Rhyme’s and Sachs’ relationship turns – I saw that one coming a mile away, even if “God don’t give out certain.”

Cover Art from Goodreads


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