In his new thriller, XO, Jeffery Deaver gives his readers triple or quadruple their money, with more twists, turns, and doglegs than an East Tennessee back road. Country-music superstar Kayleigh Towne is barely out of her teens, but fame and a hard-driving manager (her father, who drank away his own career) make life tough enough. When a creepy fan crosses the line from adoration to stalking, things become even more tense. Edwin Sharp, the delusional fan, believes Kayleigh wants a relationship with him, too, and that only her family and handlers are keeping them apart. Taking to heart the lyrics to her song “Your Shadow,” he stakes her out wherever she goes.
Though Kayleigh changes her email address and has her team of lawyers send him repeated cease-and-desist letters, the disturbing emails from Edwin just keep coming. So when Kayleigh’s beloved friend and roadie burns to death under suspicious circumstances while they’re preparing for a concert in Fresno, Kayleigh calls in her investigator friend, Kathryn Dance, a special agent of the California Bureau of Investigation with expertise in body-language analysis. As the body count rises, the murders seem to point to Sharp, but then they point away again. Could Kayleigh’s hard-charging personal assistant be involved? What about the producer who fears he’s going to lose her as a client? Could the murders be politically motivated?
Kayleigh’s most controversial song “Leaving Home,” is about a woman forced out of the house where she and her husband have raised a family. At the song’s end, listeners finally learn that the woman, an undocumented worker, “is being deported, though she’s spent her whole life in the United States,” Deaver writes. “Just after the woman is dropped off alone at a bus station in Mexico, she sings the coda: ‘America the Beautiful’ in Spanish.” Unsurprisingly, the song becomes a focus of anger for anyone who takes “a hard line on immigration reform. But it was also hugely popular and had become an anthem among Latino workers and those preaching a more open border policy.”
“Leaving Home” doesn’t escape the notice of the Keyholders, a secret—and vicious—conservative movement. Kayleigh, along with a liberal congressman who posts the song’s lyrics on his website, are among its many targets. “The Keyholders funneled huge sums to candidates they thought would best uphold proper ideals to keep America strong: reduced federal government, limited taxation, minimal participation in world geopolitics and, most important, the elimination of virtually all immigration,” Deaver writes. “Curiously, the Keyholders had little patience for what they considered, in their opinion, unfocused and often simpleminded movements like the Tea Party, the religious right and those railing against abortion and homosexuality. No, the main issues that mattered to the Keyholders were the death of American self-reliance through socialism and the dilution of the purity of the nation through immigration.”
Even the most dyed-in-the-wool thriller enthusiasts acknowledge a certain paint-by-numbers quality to this genre. While readers don’t always know what to expect from the plot, they are at least familiar with the way one typically unfolds, and they can guess when the big reveal will happen. Jeffery Deaver’s books are different: just when you think you’ve finally hit the straightaway in XO, there’s another series of hairpins in your path.
Deaver is perhaps best known for his suspense novel The Bone Collector, which was adapted for film and starred Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. But he is something of a renaissance man, too: a former folksinger, journalist, and attorney who has written two short-story collections and a nonfiction law book, in addition to his twenty-nine novels. He has also written an album of country songs to accompany XO, recently recorded in Nashville by Treva Blomquist. Readers can download a free mp3 of “Your Shadow,” the featured track on the album and, more importantly, the song that captures the imagination of the book’s elusive killer.