by Randy Alcorn
While Deadline and Dominion were published back-to-back in the mid-90’s, Alcorn waited ten years to follow up with a third novel. Deception centers around Detective Ollie Chandler, and was by far and away my favorite out of the trilogy, and just an all-around fun, entertaining, and challenging book.
Like Dominion, Deception makes more sense if you’ve read the previous books, but is very readable as a stand-alone. (Actually, I recommend it that way, especially if you’re not terribly interested in Alcorn’s theology.) Chandler is the narrator of the book, and while I’m not usually a huge fan of first-person narratives, Chandler’s voice is what makes this story so much fun. His dry humor had me laughing out loud on multiple occasions. Chandler, a detective himself, has a great love for the classics, and there are so many references to Sherlock, Poirot, and many others. I loved it.
After the tone, leave your name, number, and the location of the money. I’ll get back to you as soon as it’s safe for you to come out of hiding.
How can you not like a guy who has that as his voicemail message?? (And after all, this is the same guy who got written up for answering phone calls at Christmas time, “Ho-ho-ho-homicide!”)
As with many thrillers, Deception starts with a murder. But as the story unwinds, it appears that no one is as they appear, and even Ollie isn’t sure that he has an alibi. While this book is too humorous to be a serious thriller, it definitely walks that line much stronger than the previous two books. While no serious procedural, the mystery element is much stronger and drives the story well.
The only problem with reading this book on its own is that you miss a lot of Ollie’s background from the other books. In Dominion, Ollie was the one helping Clarence solve the mystery of the murder of Clarence’s sister and daughter. In that book, which focused so much on race, we learned a great deal about Ollie, who was almost fired over false accusations of beating a man because he was black. While that’s a long way in the past at the point of this book, it’s still a part of Ollie’s life that shaped, and in many ways embittered, him.
A widower, Ollie speaks frequently and fondly of his wife, whom he misses. Since her death, he’s found himself drinking more and more. Unlike many other detective novels, however, Ollie’s alcoholism is never treated as something normal or good or even as that “edgy” background for the hero – it’s destructive and he knows it, and it’s interesting to watch him begin to work through it.
The dialogue is great, and Alcorn introduces some fantastic one-off characters, too. Throughout the story, Clarence is following Ollie around during his investigation as part of a “good PR” policy put in place by the chief of police (whom Ollie cordially hates). At one point, Ollie and Clarence stop to visit a witness who may have seen someone entering the victim’s home. The whole thing reads like an Abbott and Costello sketch, including a man who, according to the uncooperative witness, was “short, mostly bald, pudgy, and looked like Abraham Lincoln.”
In Deadline, Jake became a Christian towards the beginning of the story. In Dominion, Clarence was a long-time Christian wrestling with a sort of mid-life-faith crisis. In Deception, Ollie is unabashedly unreligious and completely skeptical. Although Jake and Clarence are two of his best friends, Ollie thinks their whole God-thing is a bunch of hogwash, and doesn’t hesitate to say so. The conversations about religion are natural and well-written.
“This guy Frederick getting killed,” I said. “It’s another example of why I don’t believe in God.”
“You believe in free choice?” Jake asked.
“Doesn’t free choice demand the freedom to choose evil?”
“Not if it causes this much suffering.”
“How much suffering is acceptable? Can you have real choices without consequences, both good and bad?”
“Isn’t it inconsistent,” Clarence piped in, “to say it’s good for God to give us free choice, but then say He shouldn’t allow evil consequences from evil choices?”
Whether you agree or not, the conversations are still thought-provoking, and scattered enough that they aren’t the main premise of the book. The friendship between the three men is good to see, and the themes of truth and deception are woven throughout in a very readable way.
As the story unfolds, Ollie becomes more and more certain that the killer is someone in the detective department, which doesn’t do a whole lot to make him popular around the office. Despite his personal problems, Ollie is a solid thinker and good at his job. The book concludes satisfyingly (if slightly randomly) and, interestingly, with Ollie still undecided about the whole Christianity question.
This book was a super fun read, and, unlike the other two, I could hardly put it down. Ollie was the most fun voice I’ve read in a long time, and I totally wanted to adopt him as my uncle or something. If you’re in the mood for a not-too-serious thriller, this one is definitely a good time.