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8.3% GREAT, 33.3% OLD & 58.4% MEDIOCRE
on 6 April 2014
As a dyed-in-the-wool Deaver fan, reviewing his work is difficult, mainly because choosing the parameters against which to measure the best in class is a tricky business; do I compare to other writers or to earlier JD work? So I must say, at the outset, that these are all Jeffery Deaver stories and so are, by definition, far above the average to begin with. But much of the praise stops there.
There are 12 stories in this anthology. Some are exceptionally short and others are quite lengthy. My grumble here is with the publishers as it seems, to me, that they seek to cash in on the 'Deaver wave' by publishing these shorter stories in a variety of books so that, to get to a couple of new stories, an avid fan has to also buy several that he/she has read previously. That's the case here as, not only had I already read all three stories that are within the recently released 'Triple Threat' ('Fast', 'Game' and 'Paradise'), but I had read 'A Textbook Case' which had previously been published as a stand alone short novel. That means that one third of this book was old material for me. And at £9.49 for this Kindle version, that isn't cheap and means that I threw £3.16 away. It would be nice (but stupid) of the publishers to print on these books that there's no point in buying 'Triple Threat' if you've already read 'Trouble In Mind' as they are exactly the same stories.
Unfortunately, these four stories are also not among Mr D's best work either. 'Fast' has a very thin plot and the end is telegraphed way in advance. In fact, anyone who has seen the TV show in which Derren Brown steals a painting will have, essentially, read this book. Similarly 'Game' has an ending so obvious that it is disappointing when, at the end, you find that you have been right all along; that isn't the Deaver way.
'A Textbook Case' was published on its own fairly recently too and that suffers from the same problem of a plot that, although convoluted, works so hard to fool the reader that those wrigglings are obvious.
'Paradise' is a very old Deaver short story, written when JD was writing his 'John Pellam; Location Scout' series. The obvious age of this story is its greatest issue although the plot is pretty unbelievable too.
So what about the other eight stories that I hadn't read before? Well, seven of them were definitely only to be read by Deaver aficionados who need to keep up their "I've read every JD work" status. It's not that they're rubbish, just that they are less than Mr Deaver's best. I would hate for anyone to pick up 'Trouble In Mind' who hasn't read any other JD and think that this is typical of his work. Mind you, Jeffery Deaver can be a bit variable, even in his major novels. 'The Coffin Dancer' remains my all-time favourite detective thriller, with the most gut wrenching twist half way through that I've read in anything. But 'The October List' was nothing more than an academic exercise and was a dire read as a result. But what about the other stories in 'Trouble In Mind'?
'Bump' is about a poker game and is quite good. The plot is a bit obvious but the conclusion less so.
'The Competitor' is set in the Olympic Games and is one of the very short stories. The writing is clever enough to fool non-JD readers but those who know of Mr D's wiles will see through it, reducing the impact of the conclusion.
'The Plot' is a confusing story about an author's death. As a reader, I saw the ending coming from afar and then just slogged through the plot to get there. This was the most boring of the stories.
'The Therapist' is one of the longer stories and also one of the better efforts. This is one of the few short stories with chapters of its own and each chapter takes the story into another stage of the whole plot. The plot line is clever and I haven't read anything quite like this from JD before. This may not be one of JD's best but it is still a far superior read to that which most other authors can produce.
'The Weapon' is short and poor. The question posed at the outset is "What sort of weapon is it?" but the answer to that occurs to the reader pretty quickly so what is supposed to be a big reveal at the end falls flat. The story also depends upon the extremely unrealistic notion that one of the characters can be so committed as to defy certainty. I'm sorry that that is so cryptic (and unclear!) but to say more would be a spoiler.
'Reconciliation' is a quiet but OK story. It has the hallmark JD trait of fooling the reader so that the earlier assumptions about the characters are revealed as false, and those revelations come gradually. The story is somewhat less subtle than a normal Deaver but, even so, the ending is fairly surprising. So this is another of those stories that is just OK for a JD while being pretty good for anyone else.
'The Obit' is an effort that annoyed me greatly. Not because it is so short (and it is!) but because I feel certain that what we have here is just another money making device from the publisher. I think that, at some time in the past, Jeffery Deaver has anticipated the time when Lincoln Rhyme might die and has produced an obituary for him, sitting in Mr D's computer ready for use. Then, the publisher has said "I know, let's publish it as a short story; all we have to do is cobble up a few words at the end to explain what has happened". This isn't a story, it's just an essay in obituary writing.
And finally, to the last story in the book, 'Forever'. This is the saviour. Not only is this story, by far, the longest in the book, it is also, by just as far, the best. The hero is a maths geek policeman. The relationships between the main characters are wonderfully drawn and add to the plot immensely. The story line itself is classic Deaver; thoughtful, fully considered, deceitfully delivered (to fool the reader all of the way through) and with more than one punchy ending. What's more, it is utterly believable. This really is the god ol' Jeffery Deaver that I so love and this one story makes buying the book worth it (almost!).
The last and best story, 'Forever', has statistics running through the plot. Hence my summary that seven of these 12 stories, or 58.4%, vary from poor to quite good; for Mr D they are mediocre. Four stories, or 33.3%, are a rip off for me as I've read them before and, even then, they aren't very good (the only reason that the Kindle version of the book 'Triple Threat' isn't a rip off is because it's so cheap). And only one story, or 8.3% of the book, is real JD quality.
The next full length Deaver novel, 'The Skin Collector' is due out soon and I look forward to that as it seems to me that Mr D's best works tend to be (but not always) those that use his well established characters. If you are a Deaver fan, then you'll have to waste money on 'Trouble In Mind' just to get at the 'Forever' story. If you're a Deaver virgin, don't bother starting with 'Trouble In Mind'.