On the Line, S.J. Rozan, Minotaur, $24.99.
The best thriller writers are extremely intelligent - think of Jeffrey Deaver, David Ellis, Tess Gerritsen, Lee Child, Leslie Glass - I could go on, but you get the idea. I think the ability to lock together the parts of a suspenseful plot, while keeping it both surprising and interesting, must require a good deal of brain power. Rozan's brain power is on display in her latest Lydia Chin/Bill Smith entry, and it's a fun change up from the other books in the series. The last one, The Shanghai Moon, felt like a real emotional investment to me, and with this book it felt to me like Rozan wanted to play more with structure and timing. She succeeds admirably.
She uses a tricky-to-utilize-well plot device, the timed imprisonment. Lydia has been kidnaped and Bill has 12 hours to find her or, her kidnapper tells Bill, she'll run out of air. Rozan being Rozan, however, she does this in an original way. First of all, Bill has no idea why Lydia has been kidnaped or who has taken her - all he knows is that it's directed at him somehow. He feels he should know the abductor but he can't figure out who it might be until rather late in the proceedings.
Bill is left clues, apparent trash in garbage bags, with the other clues unfortunately becoming a series of dead Asian prostitutes. He's working with Lydia's slacker teen cousin, Linus, and his friend Trella. who are an effective way to bridge the generation gap. Joining in the story at different points are Lydia's cop cousin, Mary; a Chinese pimp named Lu; and when the light finally dawns on who Lydia's abductor is, various unsavories from Bill's past. The trash bag puzzles are really clever, and while you could try and crack them along with Bill and Linus, they're pretty tough.
Rozan's roots may be in both the traditional whodunnit as well as the traditional P.I. format, but like any good writer, she manages to change things up with each book. There's a particularly bravura scene towards the end where Linus and Trella riff on each other and figure out how to use Facebook and Twitter to track the kidnapper, while Bill remains truly puzzled by what they are doing, and even more puzzled when it seems to work.
This is one of the smartest and most entertaining thrillers I've read in a long while. There's never a point where things lag, or where you figure out what's going to happen next. The addition of humor via Linus is even more welcome. Rozan's willingness to change and learn as a writer is evident on almost every page. This is a terrific, tight, well plotted thriller that even more importantly is a complete blast to read.
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