Deceit, by Brandilyn Collins (Zondervan, 2010)
Some evil shouts from rooftops, some scuttles in the dark. The greatest evil tips its face toward light with shining innocence.
Baxter Jackson shone with the worst of them. (p. 15)
Brilliant opening words for a suspense novel! These are the angry thoughts of Joanne Weeks, whose best friend Linda was Baxter’s first wife. Now his second wife is dead too, and Joanne believes he killed them both.
Problem is, Baxter is larger than life in the small California town of Vonita. He’s rich, successful, admired by all except Joanne. He’s even head elder of their church.
But Joanne knows Baxter abused Linda, even if the rest of the town—chief of police included—thinks he’s a model citizen.
A frightening encounter with a hooded man (see the book cover) gives Joanne a new mission: find Melissa, the teenaged foster child who was living with the Jacksons at the time of Linda’s death. “HM,” as Joanne calls the man, says Melissa knows where Baxter buried the body.
Joanne is a professional skip tracer, making her living by finding people who don’t want to be found. But can she find Melissa and convince her to talk before Baxter learns what Joanne’s up to—and stops her permanently?
Joanne’s part of the story is told in first person and alternates with Melissa’s from six years earlier. Melissa’s scenes are told in the third person.
The first-/third-person switch works for me in the novel because it makes a clear break between present and past. As the two plots play out, with occasional third-person scenes from an unidentified man who’s keeping tabs on Joanne, there are some unexpected twists along the way.
In her typical Seatbelt Suspense® style, Brandilyn Collins gives us a wild ride from the opening pages. I’ve read enough of her novels now to trust her delivery: she may scare me, but she won’t traumatize me with explicit scenes.
A big part of what makes her novels bestsellers is the characters: they’re real, with thoughts, experiences and motivations that make sense—and that drive the plot to come out the way it does.
Brandilyn explains some of how she does this in her non-fiction book for writers, Getting Into Character. It’s harder than it looks!
Deceit is the perfect name for this book. It seems like everyone’s lying, even Joanne, whose job sometimes involves gaining information under false pretences. She hasn’t thought anything of it until Melissa demands, “Is that what the Bible says—don’t lie except when you ‘have to’?” (p.186)
If she can stay alive long enough to see Baxter behind bars, Joanne knows she needs to think about Melissa’s accusation. For readers interested in this and other thought-provoking questions, see the discussion guide for Deceit.
Her next suspense novel, Over the Edge, releases May 2011. You can read a teaser for Over the Edge here. The plot is based on Lyme Disease, and Brandilyn says it’s the novel she was “made to write”. (Her Lyme-Over the Edge blog says, “Brandilyn was struck with Lyme in 2002. She was miraculously healed in 2003 and was completely well for six years. The year 2009 brought a reinfection, which she is managing to keep under control.”) Lyme-Over the Edge is a place for people to share their own experiences with Lyme Disease.