Authors of crime fiction know a way to give their writing a certain cachet: invoke music. Conan Doyle has Sherlock Holmes enjoying the operas of Wagner, while PD James gives Adam Dalgliesh a taste for Elgar’s Cello Concerto. All this music has a certain cultural respectability however, and confers a degree of sophistication on your copper.

What then of country music, which saturates the new novel by Jeffery Deaver? Indeed, there’s even a tie-in Nashville-produced CD. The genre still suffers from a perception that it is redneck fare: lachrymose, right-wing and musically trite. And in XO, despite Deaver’s customary authority in dispensing an ineluctably gripping crime narrative, your attitude to country may well determine your response to the book. Deaver’s dedication has extended to including the lyrics from the album by his book’s country singer. Some of them are key to the plot but do not best represent Deaver’s skills as a wordsmith – unless he is trying to create a facsimile of the banality of most country songs.

The book itself is as capable a piece of thriller writing as Deaver has delivered. Kayleigh Towne is riding high in the country charts when she agrees to a concert in her home town. But a fanatical admirer called Edwin Sharp has been sending letters and emails extolling his eternal love; threats of legal action do not faze him, and he appears to have access to every detail of Kayleigh’s past. The worried singer enlists the aid of an old friend, Deaver’s recurring Special Agent Kathryn Dance. When one of the road crew is killed, the murder method appears to be inspired by the first verse of Kayleigh’s current hit and Kathryn realises other verses may lead to further murders. But is the killer the obsessed Edwin?

The plotting here is endlessly surprising, and it’s necessary to keep an eye on every character as Deaver always plays fair concerning the revelations. However, whether or not you’ll want to listen to the accompanying CD will depend on whether your taste is for Mahler or Merle Haggard.

XO is published by Hodder & Stoughton

When you are a beautiful female country singer you can expect some inappropriate attention from lunatic fans. Kayleigh Towne has it in spades. This fan wants everything from her. The full nine yards, and she’s scared.

Not without reason, as, whilst preparing for a big concert in Fresno, California, one of the key members of her road crew is murdered.

Enter Kathryn Dance from the California Bureau of Investigation, a long time music freak and close friend of Kayleigh’s, who pulls out all the stops to investigate the case (With help from our old friends Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs) which of course she does, but expect a big surprise at the finale.

XO (That’s kisses to you) is up to Deaver’s usual high standard, and will sell by the bucket load, but just a couple of things rankled.

If star hires a bodyguard, he (or she) doesn’t usually sit in the parking lot outside a restaurant, but instead positions him or herself at a table a discreet distance away and looks out for any action. It’s fine for drama but not realistic.

And secondly, the author name checks The Load Out by Jackson Browne as the only song about road crew. I beg to differ. I’m sure Willin’ by The Eagles (I think) features the unforgettable lyrics about ‘Wine, weed and whites’ (If it’s not The Eagles blame the three W’s which gave me a certain degree of chemical inconvenience at the time)

And then of course there’s Doctor Hook’s Roland The Roadie And Gertrude The Groupie. Who could possibly forget that one?


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