For those who are unfamiliar with the term "skip tracer" (as I was), this is primarily an information-based occupation that exists for the sole purpose of hunting down people who have disappeared. This involves taking out contracts on finding "skips," sometimes put out by the police and presumably for private cases, too. Runners nearly always leave a meandering, nearly invisible trail of material evidence to track, but a good skip tracer knows surprising secrets of the trade. Does this work make the world a better place?
Often, yes. Joanne Weeks's cases are personally satisfying and lead to some long-deserved justice. Inevitably, this lets people move on with their lives and certainly changes outcomes. But Joanne's cases involve some inevitable deceit on her part and are always emotionally draining. Many times she can't foresee the consequences in bringing in a skip who has gone to great lengths to disappear.
Joanne's current case begins when she hits a pedestrian on the road one stormy night, a stranger who has been looking for her. He is hooded and wears a mask, a disturbing figure who seems overly concerned about hiding his identity and ignores his injuries from the impact. He implores Joanne to hunt down the murderer of her missing best friend Linda and supplies her with covert information about a potential witness; this is Melissa, Linda's foster daughter at the time, a troubled girl who only just came to live with them before Linda's disappearance, after surviving a living hell at the hands of her biological mother. Melissa is now a grown woman who has been careful not to leave any recent traces of her whereabouts. But Joanne's substantial occupational skills lead her to the girl and the secrets she holds.
Joanne's accident with the pedestrian occurred just after the news hit Vonita that Baxter Jackson, Linda's widower, had lost his second wife in some household accident. Linda's disappearance had occurred six years prior, but the death of this second woman has raised enough suspicion for Joanne to step forward. She accosts the sheriff and publicly accuses Baxter of killing his first wife, vehement in her desire to see justice done. She's been trying to get the investigation reopened, without success. The entire town is backing Baxter blindly. One hungry reporter apparently found her ideas interesting enough to publish in the paper. But there aren't many who would dare question or suspect him of anything criminal; Baxter is admired and has an impeccable reputation as a church leader and community supporter. Only Joanne knows something no one else does: that Baxter had been despicably cruel and abusive to Linda behind closed doors.
DECEIT is a stand-alone novel by experienced thriller writer Brandilyn Collins, centering on a strong and independent heroine who has an interesting occupation. The little-known information revealed about skip tracers here is reason enough to read the book; the protagonist is another. It's fun to experience this kind of story through Joanne's eyes as she's a strong and caring woman who risks her life repeatedly to find justice for her friend. She's also just beginning to think about a potential love interest after being a widow for quite some time, and it's enjoyable to watch her slowly expand her horizons and accept a man into her life again.
The book is unexpectedly contemplative in that it is not just a Christian inspirational but is also very introspective. It hones in not only on violence itself but on the consequences of the initial deceit that caused it --- those first threads of dishonesty that led to a spiraling cycle of brutality and bloodshed. DECEIT is an intense, fast-paced inspirational that will satisfy fans of thrillers and also those who appreciate deeper introspection in what they read.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on June 29, 2010