Oct 20, 10
I own a copy, read count: 1
The Broken Window is a crime thriller novel, the eighth in Jeffery Deaver’s popular Lincoln Rhyme series. Rhyme, the protagonist, is a forensic genius. He has an insatiable appetite for solving crimes. The scientific approach he takes to all of his work gives him the ability to solve almost anything. Rhyme has a forensics lab installed directly in his home. He became paralyzed after a support beam fell onto him while he was at a crime scene, confining him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Due to his handicap, Amelia Sachs, his lover and protégé, are his eyes and ears in the field. She represents emotion, a contrast to his science.
This particular book in the series deals with an Orwellian nightmare of a crime – a psychotic mastermind that uses the data-mining business to steal the identities of his victims and of the innocent people he frames for his crimes. He demolishes lives with impunity while concealed behind the impenetrable barriers of cyberspace. Rhyme’s cousin Arthur is arrested on murder charges, and the evidence Lincoln sees is perfect – too perfect. He and Amelia Sachs piece together a pattern of similar crimes that lead them to the unknown killer – “522”. Their research leads them to Strategic Systems Datacorp (SSD), the biggest data mining company in the world. They realize 522, having access to the normally-confidential data there, could obtain every single bit of information about anyone’s life. And when 522 figures out their identities, the hunters become the hunted: Walking straight into the killer’s lair puts Sachs and Rhyme in danger of becoming the next victims of 522 themselves.
The narration that The Broken Window contains is very unique. The point of view switches back and forth from the Rhyme to the antagonist (522). In addition, the point of view switches briefly to several other supporting characters as well (all of them assisting Rhyme in some way). What is most unique about Deaver’s writing style in this particular book is that 522’s point of view is expressed in the present tense, while the protagonists’ point of view is expressed in the past tense.
The interesting way Deaver makes use of narration and verb tense changes is really a strong point of the book. Using present tense puts the reader into the center of the action in the moment. It feels more engaging and exciting this way. Also, giving the reader a taste of both sides of the action and story elevates the suspense to a whole new level. We are able to see directly into the mind of the killer, complete with a running monologue of his thoughts and plans. Deaver apprises us of Arthur Rhyme’s dreadful experiences in jail, then switching to the protagonists’ ongoing struggles to catch the deadly killer.
Deaver takes the story to a personal level by showing us the damage that can be done by data and a person with access to it. Identity theft is on the rise, and there is little protection for the victim. In the wrong hands, the facts contained in disks and drives around the world can lead to an extreme invasion of privacy and freedom. There are data mining companies in this world today, just like Strategic Systems Datacorp (SSD) in the book, that “dig through data about customers, their purchases and houses and cars, credit histories, everything about them. They analyze and sell it." It is the business of the twenty-first century. The story warns us that our supercharged computers are not just a benefit to our supercharged economy. The same message reappears again and again, almost too many times- that we have no secrets or privacy, and all our information could be given out to others at any time. 522’s violent string of murders just goes to reinforce that point.
Data mining isn’t yet at the technological level described in the story, so we can relax for now. The key word here is ‘yet’; however, such technology could and useful for this type of business. We never know. It may not be far away. The plot of the book may not be possible yet, but definitely believable. It makes the reader realize that he or she could be a victim. It makes them realize how vulnerable someone could be in the present world. It also shows our dependence to computers nowadays, how we blindly and naively believe the data contained in them without any question of authenticity. What if you no longer have any secrets to hide? What if you knew you were being watched, tracked every day – that someone had access to every single detail of your life? This is what The Broken Window is all about.
The story contains a hefty amount of dialogue, which seems to be part of Deaver’s style, but at a hair shy of 600 pages it is somewhat overflowing with sub-plots and red herrings. Toward the end of the book, sub-stories and endless dialogue drag on until we reach the story’s otherwise attention-grabbing conclusion. Here, Deaver’s viewpoint-switching that worked so effectively before actually detracts from the overall suspense. Many times, small sections of the exciting conclusion start to unfold, but are interrupted by Rhyme’s continuous and monotonous dialogue in the preceding chapters. It gives you the sudden urge to rip out these ‘filler’ chapters because it feels so unnecessary for them to exist. It’s a wonder, and a shame, why the editors didn’t do that.
Apart from that though, this is an otherwise great book, a real page-turner. Kudos to Deaver for bringing many hidden problems of our generation to where people can relate to them on a personal level. The entire topic of the book makes the whole plot and storyline compelling to read. By far, the whole subject matter of this book is what puts it ahead of the competition, along with Deaver’s creativity and plot twists that lend an interesting perspective to the age of Information.