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by Jeffery Deaver
Hodder & Stoughton Paperbacks, May 2013
512 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0340937335

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Special Agent Kathryn Dance is off duty for once, pursuing her hobby as a folklorist, a collector of songs. She's in Fresno to record a local group of Mexican musicians, as well as catching up with the local girl who's hit the big time, country singer-songwriter Kayleigh Towne. It doesn't take Dance, a body-language expert, long to work out that her friend is scared.

Kayleigh is already off balance as a result of the unwelcome attention of one of her fans becomes convinced that she loves him and then matters are quickly made much worse when one of her crew is killed in what looks like a freak accident on stage whilst setting up for her concert later in the week. Dance takes a look at the scene of the man's death and spots something that the local sheriff has overlooked and suddenly what appeared to be a tragic accident takes a more sinister turn.

XO liberally laced with the sort of red herrings that Jeffery Deaver has become famed for and after a while, the technique started to become tiresome, a reaction that I don't normally have to his books. I very much suspect that Dance is simply not a strong enough character to carry a whole book. She works better as a supporting character, probably because the study of kinesics simply isn't anywhere near as gripping as the forensic skills of his other main character, the much-loved Lincoln Rhyme. Even a guest appearance by the crippled former detective and his partner Amelia Sachs wasn't enough to elevate the book to the level of so many of Deaver's other works.

On the positive side, the storytelling is as fluent as ever and rarely dragged, although at times it felt like plot points were being telegraphed in a way that I don't normally associate with Deaver. However, his background in the music industry lends some much needed credibility and depth to the plot, and the song that forms an essential part of the narrative feels real and substantial.

The book takes its name from the way Kayleigh Towne used to sign emails to fans, and it's in the depiction of stalker Edwin Sharp that XO is at its best and most comfortable. As a crime, stalking is only just starting to be taken seriously, despite high-profile deaths on both sides of the Atlantic, and it is frightening to realise how many people are the victims of this sort of behaviour every year. XO is a chilling and all too believable study in obsession and despite its shortcomings this is a book that still manages to be compelling.

Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, May 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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