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Deceit    by James Siegel order for
by James Siegel
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This thriller reminded me of a well known children's story and its protagonist even labels himself as 'The boy who cried wolf. Who shouted, screamed, and plastered it across two-inch headlines.' Tom Valle is a grown man, an award-winning journalist disgraced for inventing his stories, rather than basing them on fact. After his downfall and the attendant publicity and prosecution, Valle fled to Littleton, California, where he works for the local rag, a job found for him by his parole officer. A series of interrelated events arouse him from this soporific existence.

Why did Tom Valle tell such blatant and escalating lies in the first place? James Siegel inserts flashbacks into the story, that gradually increase the reader's understanding of his anti-hero's abused childhood, the fate of his younger brother, and the neediness that led to his adult misdemeanors. His current set of problems begin with his coverage of a centennial birthday, that of Belinda Washington in an old folks' home. It seems that Belinda's son - who died in a terrible local tragedy, the Aurora Dam Flood, in the 50s - has returned to visit her. Then Tom is called to the scene of a highway smashup, and finds anomalies in that accident too - a lying witness and a castrated corpse who's not the veteran his id indicates. Subsequently, Tom's attacked in his basement by a plumber who whispers 'You're it' on his way out.

Tom's long stagnant journalistic instincts are naturally aroused and he begins to dig. This leads him to the lovely Anna who fixes car problems; a drugged and befuddled ex-soldier who walked out of a VA psychiatric hospital; a reporter named John Wren who had Tom's current job before him and was obsessed with the Aurora Dam Flood; the lone survivor of the flood who recalls seeing aliens and robots when she was rescued as a three-year-old; an actor paid to support a con game; and a small town high school full of science geniuses. As Tom pieces the puzzle together into a horrific whole, people begin to die, murdered with Tom's stolen gun. He's briefly committed to the psychiatric facility, and many aspects of what he's uncovering oddly mimic the tall tales that imploded his previous life.

In Deceit, master storyteller James Siegel gives us conspiracy theory on a grand scale, starring a 'pathological liar' who ultimately (if you believe him) redeems himself. All the way through, the reader has to wonder, is Tom Valle telling the truth now? Can he be trusted? Read this brilliant thriller and decide for yourself.

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