If mass market paperbacks could talk, they might say “Reports of the death of our format have been greatly exaggerated.” I hold in my hand Exhibit A for the paperbacks’ position. It is a new thriller by Steven Gore called ACT OF DECEIT, which is subtitled “A Harlan Donnally Novel.” I hope this means there will be more books featuring Harlan Donnally, because this one is great, one of those stay-up-all-night-reading stories that will keep you on the edge of your seat (or bed, as the case may be).
"[ACT OF DECEIT] is great, one of those stay-up-all-night-reading stories that will keep you on the edge of your seat."
Gore’s previous books, FINAL TARGET and ABSOLUTE RISK, featuring an investigator named Graham Gage, were solid reads; ACT OF DECEIT, though, should take Gage to an entirely new level. Harlan Donnally is a former San Francisco police detective whose career ended in a shootout that left him with irremediable injuries. He did not leave his acquired skill set behind, however, even when he left his former urban environs for the relatively isolated Mount Shasta. Donnally lives a quiet yet fulfilled existence as the owner and operator of a small but popular diner.
But everything changes when he agrees to fulfill the deathbed request of the operator of the junkyard next door. His neighbor had a hidden past, one that included murder, sacrifice and a sister long lost in the wind. Donnally reluctantly sets out to fulfill the last wish of a dying man, and in doing so encounters far more than he bargained for. The sister, as it turns out, is long dead, and the man accused of her murder is in the wind, once in custody but now free due to an error of the system. Though resenting the promise that put him on the road he is on, Donnally nevertheless feels duty-bound to correct a miscarriage of justice. His quest takes him to Berkeley, where the remnants of a counterculture that was often at odds with itself puts him on a tangled trail that leads him from the lowest dregs of society to the halls of the wealthy and impurely pious.
Donnally discovers that there is far more at stake than achieving justice for an innocent murder victim; indeed, he finds that a trail of young and abused victims leads from San Francisco to the southern border of the United States and beyond. Before he is done, Donnally will put himself and those he loves at great risk in order to safe future victims from a predator who is seemingly invincible.
In ACT OF DECEIT, Gore’s style harkens back to the California noir of Ross MacDonald and the voice of his world-weary Lew Archer, though his plotting ultimately trends more toward the thriller genre than did MacDonald’s classic work. No matter; the last third of the book is as exciting as anything you will read this year. Gore gets where he is going with a series of twists, turns and revelations that keep the reader on board and frequently guessing; the climax is a satisfying one, promising great and interesting things to come from him in future volumes. There are treasures that continue to be found in the shrinking display space of mass market paperbacks, and ACT OF DECEIT is one that shines brightly.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 27, 2011