When it comes to electronic social networking, blogs and twitter, some of us take to such things like ducks to water, while others steer well clear – for as long as they can. If you’re of the latter persuasion, Jeffrey Deaver’s new novel will be grist to your mill: here, the latest technology (and its obsessive practitioners) can be downright dangerous.

Cyber-bullying is at the heart of Roadside Crosses — a teenage net-surfer is convinced that a blog has ruined his life, and exacts an extreme revenge. (Like all the best thriller writers, Deaver takes elements from the news and extrapolates lethal scenarios – the airwaves at present are full of ill-advised blog rages in which trivial matters inspire splenetic hatred.)

In the Monterey Peninsula, a murderer is depositing roadside crosses on the local highways. Not to mark the recently deceased, but as grim harbingers of imminent deaths – of those he is about to kill. Travis Brigham is an unstable young man whose heroes are the similarly disturbed teenage mass killers of Virginia Tech and Columbine. He is the subject of personal attacks on a much-read blog called the Chilton Report for his involvement in a road accident in which two young girls died. But those who posted the attacks on Travis are about to pay a high price: personal information they posted about themselves will be used to end their lives.

Roadside Crosses is the latest of Jeffery Deaver’s novels with cutting-edge technology as the plot engine. His protagonist is Kathryn Dance, who is showing signs of achieving the popularity of his long-term hero, Lincoln Rhyme. When the Travis Brigham case is handed to her, she enlists her reliable colleague Deputy Michael O’Neill and the other CBI agents we met in 2007’s The Sleeping Doll, her debut appearance. Kathryn finds that she is up against a massively talented (and techno-savvy) young man, whose skills learnt in role-playing online games have made him a formidable opponent.

This is Deaver on cracking from; the usual helter-skelter pace (with adroitly marshalled multiple plot strands) and relentlessly ticking clock (ratcheting up tension is something at which Deaver has few equals). Refreshingly, the book is not a jeremiad about the dangers of the internet; if anything, it’s a plea for awareness of those among us who are moving into dangerous realms of obsession — and the self-imposed dehumanising of these alienated young men.

BARRY FORSHAW

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ROADSIDE CROSSES

By Jeffery Deaver

(Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99)

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