Meg Gardiner's debut novel, "China Lake", was an interesting thriller made notable by confident writing a particularly strong central character in Evan Delaney but let down by a too-tidy ending. "Mission Canyon", the follow-up, was just excellent - surprising, affecting and devastating, and never short of great reading. "Jericho Point" is better again, a brisk, authentic, engaging and occasionally quite frightening thriller that demonstrates another step forward for this very talented author.
The central conceit - identity theft - only works if you care about the characters involved, and the characters here are easy to care about because they don't seem like characters; they love and fight like real people, they don't always say the things you wish they would and they act with motivations that come from real feelings rather than some ill-conceived convenience of the authors imagination. The relationships are perfectly drawn, too, with shared histories all too evident, and with redemption and forgiveness not coming easy - this extending beyond Evan and Jesse, not only to his family but to everyone who plays a part in the proceedings. Drop the book and you would bruise these people, cut the page and they'd bleed.
Similarly, for the book to work the threat posed must feel threatening, and Gardiner scores here too, with her bad guys being unmistakably human but - special mention, Murphy Ming - also clearly very dangerous. And crucially, when the various pieces fall into place and the workings of the scam are revealed (in probably my favourite scene) it all hangs together; once we know why everyone is doing what they're doing it still makes sense, there are no senseless histrionics, no-one is over-reacting. In a way this helps bring the danger home, since it makes it hard to reduce the antagonists to irrational or stupid people - we can understand why they're doing what they're doing even if we can't exactly condone it.
It is Gardiner's ability to change moods so quickly and skilfully - to have you smiling along with her one minute and then bunching your toes in apprehension the next - that makes all this work so well, since it enables her to include personal issues alongside the necessary danger in the plot without ever making the lightness seem forced (the line about weddings and the film "Armageddon" cracked me up) or the peril casual. Plus, Ms. Gardiner can tell a great story, and has a skill with narrative that outstrips many of her contemporaries, meaning that she can put across quite complicated ideas concisely, thus maintaining the momentum she has built up. So this barrels along to a real gripper of a conclusion that thankfully doesn't shy away from the issues it raises. Top stuff.
Put simply, this is an outstanding novel that is a joy to read, and the series as a whole is easily one of the most humane and exciting currently being written. More please!