In the brave new world of technology, a star belongs to everyone. Country crossover singer Kayleigh Towne learns that the hard way, every aspect of her life ripe for exploitation, personal and professional, privacy forfeit for fame in the current pop culture. An obsessive stalker/fan is the leading man in this thriller: Edwin Sharp a human encyclopedia of all things Kayleigh, convinced that they are meant to be together. Letters and emails have escalated, Edwin convinced of his mission to free Kayleigh from her handlers. The tall, formerly heavy fan, now trimmed down and remarkably affable when confronted, is equally well-versed in his legal rights absent any threat to the object of his affections.
Preparations are underway for a concert in Fresno, California (Kayleigh’s home town), when the first incident occurs—a tragic accident that becomes instead a homicide. California Bureau of Investigation’s Agent Kathryn Dance is vacationing for a week to do musical research for her hobby, a website devoted to the origins of local music, and has plans to see her friend Kayeigh’s concert while in the area. When she hears of the tragedy, Kathryn drives directly to the site of Kayleigh’s concert and offers her services to local law enforcement. After some initial territorial disputes, Dance is allowed to contribute to the investigation, engaging in an adversarial tug-of-war with crusty Chief Pike Madigan. Their nuanced relationship develops during the case, indicating Deaver’s trademark penchant for eccentric and not-always-compatible characters.
There are plenty of unique individuals in this thriller, from the law enforcement personnel in Fresno to the musicians in the band, handlers and family members involved in Kayleigh’s business. Not the least of these is the star’s father, once famous in his own right but now trying to control his daughter’s financial decisions with an iron resolve. While the murders continue—each linked to a verse in a key Kayleigh Towne song—the plot expands to include more than one potential suspect, though Edwin Sharp remains the most logical, if impossible to pin down. As the threat ratchets up and a brave young singer attempts to cope with her losses, Deaver skillfully blends in an active police investigation with country musical history, local color, politics, the demands of fame, and even a bit of Dance’s current romantic dilemma.
While solving the crimes remains the primary element, with the beautiful songstress at the center of the drama, Deaver indulges in considerable plotting legerdemain: a series of potential suspects, blind alleys, alternate criminal enterprises and an informative exploration of the evolution of a stalker. Frantic for a breakthrough, Dance even receives the assistance of her fellow detective (and potential love interest) Michael O’Neil, as well as a brief but critical appearance by quadriplegic forensic expert Lincoln Rhyme and his partner, Amelia Sachs. There are a lot of ingredients in this criminal casserole, but Deaver times every detail, pulling off a sophisticated crime drama, cloaked in country music and the stardust of celebrity but just as deadly for the monster at its center.