XO is the latest novel by Jeffery Deaver, two of whose books I previously reviewed — on August 27, 2006, and on November 23, 2009 — although I’ve read many more of his books than those two. In fact, I suspect that I’ve read all of them. Deaver is a master of surprise plotting and geeky detail, so he’s always fun to read. Like Roadside Crosses, this particular effort features Kathryn Dance rather than his usual protagonist, Lincoln Rhyme, even if Rhyme does make a cameo appearance in XO.
I am told that XO was inspired by Taylor Swift, whom I know absolutely nothing about (don’t tell my students), so it may or may not have anything to do with her. In accordance with Deaver’s trademark style, you never quite know who the murder will turn out to be, as there are constant twists and turns in the plot. But there’s a real-life twist to the story, or should I say the meta-story. I listened to the audiobook version, which was generally very well read (performed?) by actress Marin Ireland — except for her annoying inconsistency in pronouncing the name of one of the lead characters, pop-country singer Kayleigh Towne. Sometimes Ireland stressed the first syllable of “Kayleigh,” making it sound like “Cayley,” and sometimes the second, making it sound like “Kay Lee.” Take your pick, but be consistent; otherwise it spoils the verisimilitude (for this listener, at any rate).
So, back to the real-life twist to the meta-story. As the narrative revolves around this country-pop singer (the one who may or may not be based on Taylor Swift), it’s not surprising that several songs feature in the story. And the big advantage to the audiobook version is that you actually get to listen to the songs.
But how is that possible, given that this is a work of fiction? The answer is that Deaver wrote the songs, got them set to music, and had them performed by Treva Blomquist (whom I also know absolutely nothing about), accompanied by a band that I presume was originally a pick-up band but maybe not. They have produced an album and are now traveling around giving live performances.
I’m not sure what to make of all this, but I can at least conclude by saying that the novel is only so-so — worth reading by us Deaver completists but probably not by anyone else.