The title of Christiane Heggan's new book, Deception, implies a story with a focus on suspense. Instead, Deception is a romantic suspense novel with an identity crisis, teetering between romance and suspense, satisfying neither element.
Beginning with a murder or, at least, the disposal of a lifeless body, the story moves quickly to introduce main characters, Dan Santini and his ex-wife, Jill Bennett. Dan, a former homicide detective with the New York Police Department, teaches law enforcement at a small college in Chicago. Jill is a successful architect in New York, building a national reputation working at the firm founded by her father, Simon Bennett, and his brother, Cyrus.
In 1984, as a starry eyed undergraduate student, Jill met and pursued her hero, Dan Santini. A young cop, still attending school, Dan had not intended to marry yet, but Jill proved irresistible. Less than a year later, with the stars in her eyes clouded, Jill agreed to a divorce. Completely out of touch for twelve years, neither anticipates being reunited by her father's death.
Initial police investigations label the death accidental, attributing it to his drinking and driving. Jill refuses to accept the authorities closing the investigation and continues to question family members and others about events just prior to her father's death.
When Jill is mugged outside her West Village loft, her best friend gives Dan a call for help. Dan decides to privately investigate goings-on triggered by Simon's death and thinks that seeing Jill may help get her out of his system. When he shows up unexpectedly on Jill's doorstep, she reluctantly agrees to accept his offer of help, also thinking this will help bring closure to a long-dead relationship.
Dan and Jill are a wonderful couple. It is clear from their first meeting after a twelve-year hiatus they will get back together. Neither has found anyone else, though both have tried. Dan is a sensitive, thoughtful man who has come to understand how he contributed to the failure of his marriage to Jill. Jill has been happy in her single existence, carving out a distinguished place for herself among her peers. As a mature woman she laughs at her flaws, including what she perceives as incompetence with children. She is intelligent, resourceful and just self-confident enough to be pleasurable but not aggressive.
Dan and Jill work their way gradually and cautiously toward each other as they attempt to discover sufficient evidence to reopen the investigation of Simon's death. In the process, the reader is introduced to family members on both sides, and a few unsavory characters who had sufficient motives and ample opportunities to have been involved in the death.
Doesn't Deception sound great so far? What could possibly be wrong with this book? Unfortunately, quite a bit. The biggest problem for me was that the story did not flow; rather, once I had read the introductory chapters, the book lurched forward skipping from highlighting one character, then another. Due to an attempt to introduce enough suspects to the story to maintain the element of mystery, certain secondary characters, such as Jill's cousin, Olivia Bennett, dominate entire chapters which lack the pace and credibility of those involving the main characters.
While who killed Simon Bennett is the mystery here, after a while I got to a point of feeling who cares as long as our hero and heroine do not get themselves killed trying to find out. And that is where the romantic element undermined the suspense. I never doubted for a second there was a happily-ever-after for Jill and Dan. Any doubts, e.g. because he loves his job in Chicago, are so weakened by the "realities" of Dan's life, especially his closeness to his extended family, that the book itself is weakened as a work of romantic fiction. I mean really – could anyone read this book, experience the Santini family, and believe Dan would be happy that far from Brooklyn?