(Reviewed by Guy Savage FEB 18, 2007)
But there were other tenets of my profession, which were maybe less noble. The one, for instance, that says you have to get the story. Even when that story involved the kind of personal disasters that made up most of the news these days. You know what I’m talking about: murdered wives, missing babies, beheaded hostages—there were a lot of these going around.
Journalist Tom Valle works for the Littleton Journal in an out-of-the way town in Southern California, “153 miles east of L.A.” He used to be a highly respected journalist employed by one of America’s most prestigious newspapers. Fellow journalists worshipped and envied his remarkable talent at uncovering the most fantastic stories. While most journalists were busy wondering how Tom got these stories, one fellow reporter went out of his way to discover the truth. When it was discovered that most of Tom’s top stories were complete fabrications, he was fired, disgraced, his marriage ruined and his career destroyed.
Now, years later, “in fugitive mode” and “nudging 40” Tom has become used to covering events such as mall openings or visiting a local Alpaca ranch. He covers his disappointment and depression with drinking, and what passes for a social life is spent as a member of a bowling league at Muhammed Alley. Nothing much ever happens in Littleton, and every story Valle writes is a “human interest piece.” With Tom’s usual run-of-the mill assignments, there’s not much chance he’ll slip into any old bad habits and start fabricating articles again. But he reads the AP stories that appear in the Journal “longingly, as if they were dirty postcards from a long-ago era.” He’d rather not think about the mess of his past, those he hurt and those he lost, but even here in Littleton, there are people who know about Tom’s past and won’t let him live it down. The local sheriff, for example, seems to find sadistic pleasure in lacing his remarks with references to Tom’s infamous fabrications. While Tom has learned to accept the humiliations, and shrug off the comments, deep down he yearns for redemption, a chance to prove that he is still a great journalist.
One day, a nasty car accident occurs just outside of town. Tom covers the story of the horribly burned victim and also interviews the man who caused the accident. Some salient features of the accident fail to add up, and Tom begins asking questions. These questions lead Tom on a trail of deceit, murder, and a long-buried secret—a secret so horrible that people are dying because of it. Aware of the dangers involved in his search, but compelled to continue no matter the consequences, he notes, “I was falling down a rabbit hole and I wanted to see where I’d land.”
James Siegel’s thriller Deceit is a cleverly constructed and intense novel. His flawed protagonist, who has almost forgotten how to be a good journalist, finds that he must reconnect with those lost skills in order to track down the sensational, buried story of a town that disappeared decades earlier, and he must somehow remain alive to tell the tale. But as he digs into the past to uncover the truth, peculiar things begin to occur, and he cannot ignore the uncanny parallels and similarities between the mystery of Littleton Flats and the fabricated stories from his past. Is Tom’s investigative journey just an attempt to fabricate yet another fantastic headline grabbing story or was Littleton Flats destroyed as part of a horrifying conspiracy? Who will believe a convicted liar?
Deceit is a marvelous, roller-coaster ride told through the eyes of Tom Valle—a talented reporter whose skills collide with his character and his desperate need for approval and acceptance. There’s a bitterness to this tale tinged with world-weariness, lost illusions and a deep sadness, and this creates the sort of atmosphere often found in noir fiction. Perhaps this explains why I enjoyed this book so much as I do not pick up many thrillers, and to be honest, it’s not a genre I am particularly interested in. But Siegel’s book is absolutely gripping, and I found myself annoyed by interruptions as I became increasingly drawn into the depths of the novel’s riveting, multi-layered plot. The psychological aspects of the story are particularly fascinating. There’s a terrible irony to the fact that the most bizarre elements of Tom’s fabricated stories emerge as factors in the hidden story of Littleton Flats. And the collision of Tom’s past with his present creates a terrifying symmetry to his life that moves forward with unstoppable precision. This emergence of the more shameful elements of Tom’s past causes him, at times, to question his sanity while acknowledging, “The echoes of my deceitful past kept bouncing back to me.” Just as a deep-seated need for acceptance and approval caused Tom to create fictional newspaper stories, that same “hunger” still dangles in front of him, urging him on to get this one last great story, and the plot moves swiftly through its drama and its tragedy with almost perfect choreography.
- Amazon readers rating: from 20 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Deceit at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Movies from Books:
- Derailed (2005)
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- Official website for the James Siegel
- Rebeccas Reads interview on Epitah
- New York Times review of Derailed
- Bookloons review of Detour
- ArmChairInterviews review of Deceit
- BookReporter.com review of Deceit
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About the Author:
James Siegel was born .... holds a B.A. from the City University of New York.
He is vice chairman and senior executive creative director and a member of the Board of Directors of BBDO New York and is one of the agency's top creative talents. His work includes such accounts as Visa, Frito-Lay (Tostitos), Charles Schwab, Office Depot and Pepsi Twist, where his contributions have played a significant role in enhancing the agency's creative reputation. His ads have won many awards including three Gold Lions at Cannes. He worked for BBDO for two decades working up from the positon of junior copywriter.
Siegel was the ad man for New York's Governor Eliot Spitzer's 2006 bid for office and is planning a political advertising business that will cater mostly to Democrats.
He lives on Long Island in New York.