Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Name of the Game is Revenge


An old and bitter rivalry, which has morphed over the years into an obsessive quest for revenge and blood...

Long-buried guilt over a series of tragic events that happened a decade ago...

A sometimes-partnership, one that has gradually progressed from wariness to a tentative respect and trust to something else, something more...

Hapless young Chinese women, who have unwittingly become prey for a sadistic madman bent on making a point...

These various elements come crashing together for one terrifying 12-hour period in S. J. Rozan's latest tale of suspense--once again featuring her New York private detectives Bill Smith and Lydia Chin-- On the Line.

The chain of events leading up to this eventful half-day begins with the mundane ringing of a cell phone. Bill, intently concentrating on the new piece he's been struggling to learn on the piano, stops what he's doing and picks up because the ring tone is Lydia's--the only person for whom he's willing to drop everything. Any warm tingles he feels at the prospect of talking to her come to a screeching halt, though, when she speaks only a couple of words... before the phone is taken away from her, and the voice in Bill's ear is replaced by that of someone using a voice modulator to disguise it. Lydia, the voice tells him, is being held captive.

As the conversation continues, Bill discovers he's dealing with a different sort of kidnapper--one who's making no ransom demands, not for money or help doing anything in particular. It is, however, someone who claims to know Bill well--taunting him when Bill doesn't recognize the voice--and who has only one request: he wants Bill to play a game with him. The kidnapper will provide various clues and evidence, and Bill's job is to figure out what they mean... if he ever hopes to see Lydia again. "You find her, she lives. You don't, she dies." The rules of the game? Bill can't involve the cops, he has only twelve hours, and the game clock starts right NOW.

Bill, normally a pretty cool customer, freaks out. Of all the things he's ever imagined happening, his part-time partner's kidnapping is bottom of the list. Still, it's not as if he really has the luxury of feeling sorry for himself here, so, after calming down enough to double-check Lydia's apartment and office (both empty), he calls in the only, definitely-outside-of-the-law experts he can think of--Lydia's young cousin Linus (hacker extraordinaire), and Linus's friend Trella (a sort-of Gal Friday, who--fortunately--seems to be proficient in all the things that Linus isn't).

The first batch of clues they receive initially appears to be nothing more than several odd bits of trash tied together in an orange trash bag... but after some head-scratching and brainstorming, the trio manages to make sense of them, and hop in a car to follow the trail. Their destination is a deserted, boarded-up bar in Brooklyn. Bill breaks in, only to find a young Chinese woman--bearing a marked resemblance to Lydia--dead.

That's a problem, obviously. An even-bigger problem, though, is the cops, pulling up all lights-and-sirens, only to find Bill standing over the dead body. He can't confide in them, according to the rules of the game--even if they'd believe him, which doesn't seem likely--nor does he have the time to waste being locked up while they investigate.

A little quick thinking, a little street-brawling, and one clever distraction (courtesy of Linus and Trella) later, finds Bill running down the street, free of his unwanted police escort... only to be snatched a block away by some very large, very unfriendly, and very well-armed Chinese dudes in a heavy-duty van. The dead girl, these new friends inform him, was a prostitute... and the leader of this anti-social crew just happens to be her out-for-blood pimp, none too happy about losing a high earner. From the frying pan into the inferno.

Fate has the grace to smile on Bill one more time, though, and after a quick phone call by Linus to his Aunt Mary--a cop (uh-oh) who is also Lydia's best friend--the pimp opts to set Bill loose (with a "we'll-continue-this-later" understanding). Yay, something to look forward to.

By-the-book cop Mary, meanwhile, is understandably furious with Bill (and with her operating-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-law nephew Linus, naturally) for not going straight to the police despite the kidnapper's instructions, but she begrudgingly agrees to do what she can, without making it official, once the others make it clear that's the only way they'll tell her anything. 

And so it continues, over the next several hours... the kidnapper--whose identity Bill finally figures out, part-way through the game (for all the help that does)--leaving his little trash bags of bizarre clues all over the city, and Bill-and-company racing around New York, hearts in their throats, hoping against hope the next lead will point them to Lydia, safe and alive... and not to another dead woman. The Chinese pimp and his henchmen (all of them sure that Bill is to blame), as well as the cops (who have a warrant out for Bill, after escaping from them at the scene of the first girl's murder), are only a few steps behind at any given moment. And, the kidnapper continues making his periodic calls on one untraceable cell phone after another, taunting Bill... threatening, making fun, and showing signs of becoming increasingly manic, while the the game clock keeps on winding down. 

There are a few different ways this horrifying twelve hours could end... but only one of them is acceptable to Bill.

On the Line is the tenth book Rozan has written featuring Bill and Lydia, and she delivers in a big way, once again. Quite simply, Rozan does everything right. From the crisp, realistic dialogue, utterly-believable relationships, plausible villains, splendid sense of place (she breathes New York, and it really shows), to her innate understanding of so many different "cultures" (those encompassing variations due to sex, age, experience, and ethnicity), she never fails to craft a thoroughly-entertaining story... intelligent, poignant, thrilling, and honest.

I never know whether to describe Rozan as a brilliant suspense writer who always stretches beyond the bounds of that genre with her elegant prose, emotional depth, and vision... or as a superb contemporary novelist who pens some of the most ingeniously-crafted tales today, liberally peppering them with gripping suspense and heart-pounding action scenes throughout. 

Perhaps I should just say "her books are not-to-be-missed", and leave it at that. :)
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 5 out of 5 mousies!


            


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