Synthetic world. A world which is inhabited by a growing number of the new and newer generations. “More and more the synth worlds are becoming real to them. In fact, there was a study recently that showed nearly a fifth of the players in one online game felt that the real world was only a place to eat and sleep, that the synthetic world was their true residence.” The players make families in synthetic world, bonding brothers and sisters, whom they have never met or known.
Jeffery Deaver’s Roadside Crosses moves in and out of the two worlds – synthetic and real – in chasing a plot of serial killings which are preceded by the popping up of crosses in the roadside. This book is the second in the series on detective Kathryn Dance. She made her debut in The Sleeping Doll. She is highly intuitive, committed and a kinetic expert.
Dance is the Special Agent with California Bureau of Investigation (CBI). She is handling this very confusing case of serial murders that appear unconnected on the surface. But they are linked – to a blog site. The most obvious clues lead her to suspect a teenager, who is addicted to gaming and lives in the fringes of the society, poor, pushed to the margin household.
When she is in the thick of the case, she faces trouble at the personal front. Her mother, a nurse with the local hospital is charged with murder for helping a terminally ill patient to die. Dance is not too sure of her mother’s innocence. But she cannot accept that her mother after decades of nursing could deliberately kill a patient.
Boling, a computer expert volunteers to help the investigation. A blog run by a man called Chilton is where the killer seems to be meeting his victims. The blog is full of entries against the suspect – teenager Travis. But understanding the boy through the game Dimension Quest, Kathryn realises that they had been looking for the wrong person. She then follows a trail that leads her to suspect that Chilton is the real target. There is this man, who is the brother of a priest who committed suicide following exposure on the Chilton Blog for gay preference, while he was leading an anti-gay movement.
But when the plot finally unravels, it is a surprise. And she almost fumbles upon the murderer. The motive for the murders was personal. And the killer was creating a smokescreen with these roadside crosses, deliberately leading the investigation to Travis. Travis is in fact the victim not the culprit, not even remotely. The case involving Kathryn’s mother was also part of the diversion tactic by the killer.
The author Deaver elaborates on the synthetic world. How the blogs work and how they are manipulated. The games that kids are addicted to, spending 30 – 40 hours a week on it. There is this mention of the latest trend in gaming. “Total immersion pods, which had originated in Japan, where kids would sit for hours and hours in the dark, private space, completely sealed off from the real world, to play computer games. This was a logical development in a country known for hikikomori, or “withdrawal,” an increasingly common lifestyle in which young people, boys and men mostly, became recluses, never leaving their rooms for months or years at a time living exclusively through their computers.” May be only fiction, but the idea is scary.
A thriller to the bones. Kathryn comes out a cool agent. Her reading of body language of people is her USP.
(Hodder & Stoughton, 338, Euston Road, London NW1 3BH, pb)