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The Bone Collector

Book by Jeffrey Deaver

Book by Jeffrey Deaver

“Everybody’s nightmare … you get into a cab and turns out there’s a psycho behind the wheel.”

That’s how The Bone Collector begins.  A man and woman fly into JFK.  Weary from their travels, they get in a yellow cab.  Their intention was to share the ride home to their respective addresses.  Instead, they’ll share a gruesome fate.

The man is discovered first.  He’d been shot dead and was buried with a hand sticking out of the ground and wearing the woman’s ring.  To fit the ring, the killer whittled the man’s finger down to the bone.  Amelia Sachs, on her last day as a patrol officer, finds the body in an old rail yard.  She takes extraordinary measures to secure the crime scene so as not to destroy any possible evidence.

The case is soon brought to the attention of Lincoln Rhyme.

Rhyme, formerly head of forensics for the NYPD, wants to die.  He’d been rendered a quadriplegic six years ago while investigating a crime scene.  A beam collapsed while he searched a subway-stop construction site.  He’s awaiting the arrival of a pro-euthanasia doctor when the detectives arrive at his apartment.  They’re the first real visitors he’s had in three months.

“We have a problem, Lincoln.  We need some help,” says Lon Sellitto, an old friend of Rhyme’s.  He and another detective lay out the case as they know it and leave a report for him to peruse.  Before they go, Rhyme tells them that they are dealing with one unsub–“unknown suspect”–and that “that’s why he left the hand in the air.  He’s waving at us.  To get our attention.”

Later, when talking to the right-to-die doctor, Rhyme begins to explain, “Criminalistics doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  The more you know about your environment, the better you can apply–” but then he checks his enthusiasm.

However, as his doctor will state later, “Work is the best thing that could happen to him. He needs friends and he needs purpose.”

Lincoln Rhyme does indeed find both.  He is the ultimate “armchair sleuth”, though not by choice.  “For someone whose muscular activities had been limited to his shoulders, head and left ring finger for three and a half years, Lincoln Rhyme wasn’t in such bad shape.”  His mental acuity is near omniscient in anticipating what might be found at the crime scenes.

Rhyme talks Amelia Sachs through the crime scene to discover the hidden clues.  Through her eyes, he is able to gauge the evidence at the scene and instruct her to search further.  The trial run of this teamwork is mightily tested when Rhyme wants Amelia to retrieve the cuffs off a vic’s dead body.  This would involve unpleasant dismemberment.  Understandably balking, Amelia stalks off in a huff.  “If he wants it done that badly tell him he can damn well walk down here and do it himself.”

This initial bump in their working relationship is overcome.  The importance of solving the intricate, obscure clues the killer left behind motivates them, epecially since these clues are indicative of a new location and victim.  As Rhyme says at one point, “The essential problem for the criminalist is not that there’s too little evidence but that there’s too much.”

Their task is rendered all the more difficult by Rhyme and Amelia’s own personal issues.  Rhyme wants to die, and Amelia just wants a quiet desk job because of a health issue.  Neither quite gets want they want by book’s end.

The opening salvo of the book grabs your attention but its a number of pages before the story really takes off.  When Rhyme gets interested in the case, so too does the reader.

The Bone Collector works well as a suspense novel keeping you on edge.  Will Rhyme and Amelia solve the clues in time to save lives?  As a mystery, it’s not readily apparent the killer may be more than a device.  Often such books create a twisted serial killer merely for the cat and mouse chase with the detective, but here … there is definitely more to it.

The eponymous bone collector is seen in several point of view scenes in which he think of himself as a historical serial killer James Schneider.  Schneider haunted the streets of New York City, circa 1900.  His exploits appear in an obscure book read by the bone collector as if it were his bible.  These passages are so convincing that one might think Schneider is an actual historical personage.  But he’s not.

Deaver’s tale is not for the squeamish.  However, if gruesome aspects don’t bother you–and particularly if you enjoy police procedural–this is a definite must for your list.


To date, The Bone Collector is the only Lincoln Rhyme mystery to be filmed.  The movie was released in 1999 with Denzel Washington as Rhyme and Angelina Jolie as Amelia.  Interestinly, Rhyme’s nurse aid Thom was changed to Thelma (played by Queen Latifah) in the film.



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