A Maiden's Grave

I read a lot of books and many of them come with fulsome reviews, some of them kind of frightening, like "grabs the reader by the throat." Would you really want a book to do that? That's the opposite of what I want a book to do, especially when I'm sneaking in five minutes of reading time before bed. A popular phrase found on the back of a book is "A real page turner" or "Can’t put this one down" but sadly that promise is often broken and I not only can put the book down, I can't wait to put it down. So I'm always pleasantly surprised when I find a book that engages me to the point where I put everything, including sleeping, on hold until I can finish it. I'm happy to say A Maiden's Grave by Jeffery Deaver kept me awake until four AM one night last week.

The story starts out with Melanie, a young Deaf (there are several interesting explanations in the book about the difference between deaf and Deaf) teacher who is taking a number of her also Deaf students, ranging in age from eight to seventeen, to a poetry recital, where she will be performing one of her poems in sign language. Mrs. Harstrawn, another teacher, sees an accident on the highway and pulls the bus over so they can help. Unfortunately this is the worst thing they could have done, as the accident scene is also a murder scene. Three escaped convicts, led by cold-blooded Lou Handy, (who says the more he gets to know someone the more he wants to kill them,) have murdered the accident victims and take the girls and their teachers hostage, driving them to a nearby slaughterhouse to make their demands.

Enter Arthur Potter, fat, middle-aged, grieving widower who is the FBI's senior hostage negotiator. His job isn't just to try and capture or kill the hostage takers with a minimal loss of life, he's also got to juggle the demands of the press and the bizarre machinations of an ex-mercenary who seems determined to take Potter out and do things his way. The press might not seem like a big deal but they are a major problem as Potter is aware of a previous barricade where the hostage takers started killing their hostages because they heard a reporter speculating that the hostage response team was about to assault the barricade. If bad guys Handy and his crew have access to a radio or television anything they hear on the news will strengthen them.

One of the most annoying things about this book is also one of the best things. Every time I got to a point where I thought I could safely put it away and go to sleep for the night, wham, something new would happen and I would start wondering how Potter would try and fix it. Of course one of the biggest appeal of mysteries is to try and figure out who done it but in a thriller you often know whodunit so instead you spend your time either trying to figure how to catch the criminal, or if the story is told from the point of view of the victim, trying to figure out how to escape. There's a great deal of vicarious pleasure to be found in thinking "What would I do?" and comparing it to what actually happens. Because I read a lot of these kinds of stories I can often figure out what is going to happen or what should be done. The kind of stories I like best are the ones that baffle me or where I learn a lot about a new subject.

This one did both. I haven’t a clue how to handle someone who has hostages and is practically frothing at the mouth with excitement at the idea of killing them so my "What would I do?" thoughts weren't necessarily good plans. Jeffery Deaver does a beautiful job explaining quite a bit about barricade procedures without slowing the momentum of the story down.

There were two things I didn't like, or that annoyed me about this book but both of them were resolved by the end. I didn't care for Melanie, the younger Deaf teacher, because she's cowardly and isn't really capable of giving the young students the support that they need. Instead of keeping them calm she tends to turn into herself and turn the world out. The other thing that didn't work for me was the title of the book. I spent too much time wondering what the heck A Maiden's Grave was supposed to mean but once the author explained it suddenly made a lot of sense and was a little like solving a puzzle. You can read an excerpt here but you might not want to if you have a meeting the next morning. Wait until you can go right out and get the book then stay up late to finish it.

Guest One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Sandra Elliott, who has this to say after a recent trip to Los Vegas, "The Atomic Testing Museum--explains everything about America's atomic testing program save how to build a nuke of your very own." Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.