This nail biter of a thriller involves a hijacked schoolbus carrying eight deaf school children and two teachers. Sound familiar? Mary Willis Walker's "Under the Beetle's Cellar" develops a very similar premise. Both books even include an asthmatic among the kidnapped children.
But in Deaver's skillful hands, the story works again. The two protagonists are Arthur Potter, senior FBI negotiator, nearing retirement, and Melanie Charrol, a young, timid deaf teacher whose lonely passion is music. The three kidnappers are prison escapees who have already killed three people before holing up in an abandoned slaughterhouse with the terrified hostages. Potter works against time to get inside the head of their leader, Lou Handy, and derail his threat to kill one hostage every hour until his demands are met.
Meanwhile, state officials have their own agenda, as does the press, and their machinations ratchet up the suspense in several different directions. And, inside, Melanie fights her fears, holding onto an image of Potter (who she has glimpsed outside) as inspiration, and works feverishly to save at least a few of the girls.
Deaver's characterizations - the outbursts of rebellion and tears among the children, the gleeful coldbloodedness of Handy, Potter's feverish analysis and risky gambles, Melanie's terrified bravery - hurtle the plot forward, while the slaughterhouse atmosphere is dank and cold, and the action is non-stop, right up to a couple of switch-back twists at the end.