Thursday, February 5, 2009

Forever by Jeffery Deaver (from Transgressions edited by Ed McBain)

Over approximately the last month, I've slowly made my way through Transgressions, the 2005 anthology of crime-fiction novellas edited by the late Ed McBain. As with most anthologies (especially those composed primarily of "big names"), the results have been of mixed quality. A few stand out among the rest — among them The Ransome Women by John Farris and The Resurrection Man by Sharyn McCrumb — but only one stood high enough to be recognized as definitely the best of the bunch: Forever by Jeffery Deaver, an author I'd not previously read.

In Forever, Deaver introduces police statistician Talbot Simms. Tal in a numbers whiz who is happy to remain at his desk, crunching arithmetic means and standard deviations. But when a couple of elderly suicides present themselves as statistical "outliers" (meaning the combination of events fall far outside the norm of mathematical likelihood), Tal declares them "2124" (suspicious) and inadvertently heads toward solving his first case as a "real" police detective.

Deaver skillfully portrays Tal Simms as a novice among veterans, concurrently showing the reader all the tiny details needed to follow procedure. But Tal slowly feels his way along, with the reluctant help of Detective Greg LaTour, who develops a grudging respect for the "Einstein" of his department. Both characters are fully three-dimensional, and I would welcome a series from Deaver featuring them. Forever also features some of the most original plotting and imagination this side of classic science fiction. Odd that I put off reading it for so long, primarily from not knowing his work, because Deaver's is the name I'll come away from Transgressions most praising.

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