The Never Game –Jeffrey Deaver

MOVE over Lincoln Rhyme, Colter Shaw is here to teach you a lesson in how to catch bad guys.

Well not entirely, for despite dashing bounty-hunter-with-a-heart Shaw boasting guns and survivalist skills, paraplegic investigator Rhyme is a better bet for a gripping crime thriller.

Shaw has his moments in his first full-length outing from Rhyme’s creator, but not enough of them when we’re used to constantly twisty, speedily page-turning storylines from the imagination of Deaver.

The Never Game is a solid-enough thriller, and will keep you reading to the end, but it’s nothing special despite its veneer of up-to-the-minute technology.

Colter isn’t strictly a bounty hunter: instead of pursuing escaped criminals he seeks missing and kidnapped people whose family have posted rewards.

His latest case involves a young woman apparently snatched after leaving a city-centre café, and Shaw is soon pounding the streets while his backup team scour the Internet.

Finding the girl is quite straightforward, Shaw’s investigations filling the first quarter of the book, but by then I was hoping for something unusual or– as usually happens with Deaver – fiendishly clever, to happen.

And yes, something does happen, as we realise there’s a psychopath on the loose, obsessed with with video games, and Sophie is only the first of his planned victims.

Shaw takes a crash course in the politics and economics of gaming, coming up with all sorts of intriguing theories as he joins with police to help the latest victims.

Amidst all this we are treated to flashbacks of Shaw’s upbringing with his family in a wilderness camp under the iron rule of his survivalist father.

There are a couple of Deaver’s trademark twists in the plot, but they’re not particularly surprising, and The Never Game never rises above the routine.

That said, Shaw is a likeable anti-hero who – as becomes obvious from the final few pages – will probably return in future books.

David Knights