Deception by Denise Mina

It takes a few paragraphs in Denise Mina’s terrific new novel Deception to grasp what’s being described. The book is written in the first person perspective of Lachlan Harriot, a middle class man with a wife and daughter. Dr. Susie Harriot, Lachlan’s wife, has been found guilty of murder.

Lachlan can’t quite cope. He’s caught in the unwanted celebrity of a high profile murder. The victim was a serial killer; Susie is an educated woman, a psychiatrist assigned to the institution where the Riverside Ripper, Andrew Gow, was being held. In addition, Gow’s wife is missing and presumed dead.

If you’re cringing at the thought of yet another courtroom drama, relax. Denise Mina has an entirely different story to tell. In short order she pulls us away from the public mayhem and takes us into the very private world of Lachlan’s diminished household.

Lachlan and Susie have a two-year-old daughter and a Spanish nanny. Life sputters forward; Lachlan is drawn to Susie’s office in the attic. He needs to find some basis for an appeal of her conviction. Lachlan roots through his wife’s computer files, her notes on Andrew Gow and a woman named Donna who married the convicted killer.

A handful of events drive the novel. Lachlan’s shock at Susie’s conviction becomes a frantic preparation for the next event, a prison visit. To steel himself Lachlan studies their wedding photos, their honeymoon in Corfu, and the first place they lived. He remembers Margie’s birth and conjures up the image of them as a completely normal family.

Lachlan recalls that after Susie lost her job for stealing files, she became angry and remote. She concealed a substantial inheritance; the attic door was kept locked and her computer password encrypted. The prison visit ends with Susie warning Lachlan to keep out of her office.

Lachlan is no match for the power of Susie’s rage. What begins as a search for proof of her innocence-she can’t have murdered two people-develops into Lachlan’s desperate quest for evidence their love was mutual. He shrivels at the memory of her slights and insults, and begins to see Susie as an angry secretive woman.

The power of this novel derives from Lachlan’s fevered interpretation of events. He tries to ignore the fact that Susie embarked on an eight-hour drive across Scotland to arrive at the murder scene. He suspects she was having an affair with a deranged killer; the stolen files, which she denied stealing, are in her locked and secret office in the attic. Nothing Lachlan learns exonerates her; nothing frees him from his delusion of marital love.

Other characters blunder into his path: his parents, Susie’s aunt Trisha, the friendly moms at Margie’s daycare. These encounters are hilarious; the older women battle for Margie’s affection. Margie bites another toddler on the head.

Nothing wrong here. Susie will be freed. That’s the mantra.

Lachlan begins an affair with the nanny. He acquires a sweet tooth and dreads the prison visits; Susie’s sentencing hearing is another disaster. Talk of appeal begins to fade.

Lachlan ultimately makes a series of forays against Susie’s tormentors. He confronts her former boss, the man who fired her. He seeks out Andrew Gow’s ‘manager,’ a slimy man who dishes dirt to the tabloids. Impaired by blind loyalty, weakness and brittle self-esteem, Lachlan soldiers on. What he learns and what he chooses to do with that knowledge, propel the novel’s climax to a masterful finish.

DECEPTION turns the mystery genre on its ear; it’s a character study as well as a vivid dissection of middle class assumptions. Lachlan serves as our native guide through an experience both exotic and terribly ordinary. He wants what everyone wants and he wants it without cost. Truth in this novel doesn’t come cheap.

Denise Mina is a superb writer who deserves major recognition. DECEPTION is a standout novel.