Antique book dealer Charles Beale is deeply saddened by the vicious murder of one of his clients, an intriguing and eccentric man connected with the U.S. Justice Department. When Charles purchases at auction a set of books he had previously sold to the deceased, he is shocked to find a box concealed inside one of the tomes. Upon opening the box, he discovers that his client enjoyed acquiring far more than antiques. The hidden box holds a variety of secrets that could ruin the lives and reputations of some high-powered people if he were to expose them. Charles’s irrepressible curiosity draws him to pursue his own investigation of the mysterious documents. But as the dirty little secrets become names and faces, he gets enmeshed in a sticky web of lies, deceit, fear and murder.
Charles attends the auction of the late Derek Bastien’s antique collection and is mystified by the bidding war for Derek’s desk. Rather than the $24,000 the desk is worth, rival bidders bring the sale to $105,000. It is the very desk on which Derek’s bloody body was discovered --- the result of a burglary gone bad. After winning his own bid for the books he originally sold to Derek, Charles uncovers the secrets concealed within. On a whim, he begins contacting the powerful politicians whose names appear on various receipts and documents from the hidden box.
When Charles tries to meet with some of Washington’s elite, he quickly discovers that Derek’s name opens many doors. Each suspects Charles knows something, but isn’t sure how much. Charles knows each has engaged in career-ending mistakes in their pasts, but struggles with his role in the entire scenario, which is somehow tied to Derek’s murder. Should he be the one to judge others based on the skeletons in their closets?
One clue leads to another, and Charles suspects that the antique desk holds secrets of its own. His suspicions prove correct when a hidden drawer reveals even more damaging documents, including one with his name on it. But by this time, the antique-book-dealer-turned-investigator has uncovered enough to place a target on his own back.
The dialogue in ACCORDING TO THEIR DEEDS is without a doubt the most clever I have ever read. Dry wit, puns and ingenious references to classic tales pepper a fascinating story of justice vs. mercy. An interesting variety of characters weaves in and out of Charles’s investigation, each made distinct by his or her dialogue and quirks. The secondary characters, Charles’s three employees, have well-defined personalities and engage in brief but colorful tête-à-têtes with their boss. I especially liked Angelo, who six months earlier robbed Charles at knifepoint and was now on probation under Charles’s supervision.
And then there is the sweet-but-not-sugary, sincere and enviable relationship between Charles and his wife, Dorothy. Even without lengthy descriptions, the heart of this relationship is made strong by the author’s brilliantly creative use of the English language. From the moment Dorothy is introduced, the reader can see she lovingly holds the key to Charles’s heart.
Adding another layer of depth and interest to the book are the flashback conversations between Charles and Derek over games of chess. Discussions of human nature, politics and philosophy provide insight into each man’s soul.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting a thought-provoking, fascinating whodunit with rich characterization, colorful imagery and creative twists and turns.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on March 1, 2009