There is a crux in fiction, a contract between the author and the reader regarding the suspension of disbelief. Readers are willing to step into fictitious worlds and accept the reality presented within and in return authors make those fictitious worlds feel real. What readers are willing to buy into ranges from the impossible to the highly unlikely. In Steam Punk, readers accept a Victorian setting with modern day technology. In Science Fiction, readers accept that humans—or human like species – populate the vast reaches of the universe, traveling and communicating through means that are purely speculation on the author’s part. In romance, readers time and again believe that a playboy will give up his multiple bed partners for that one special woman or that a prince will marry a peasant girl. To aid this disregard of reality, fiction must be couched and grounded in something plausible: readers accept the implausible 200 year old vampire, Louis, in Ann Rice’s Interview With The Vampire because despite Louis’ drinking of blood, rising with the moon, and immortality, he is mired in emotions so human every reader can relate. When fiction is burdened with characters and storylines that strain credibility on top of asking for the usual suspension of disbelief, fiction is doomed to failure. Such is the case with Colleen Thompson’s The Deadliest Denial.
Awaking to a knock at the door, Claire Winslow discovers her husband, Spence, a police officer, has been arrested for the murder of Adam Strickland. For any wife, it’s a horrible turn for life to take; for Claire it is the latest trauma in an overwrought life. Claire’s mother was shot and killed by a hunter when Claire was a baby; Claire lost her sister to cancer when the girls were teenagers; months before Spence’s arrest, he was involved in a shooting that left a 12 year old boy dead. Even Claire’s dog hobbles around on three legs. Before too much time can be spent wondering why a police officer would be arrested on murder charges, when there isn’t a body or a crime scene, Claire’s life is further complicated and devastated with the news that Spence also attempted to hire a hit man to kill her.
Claire learns that, in the wake of the shooting, Spence began to compulsively gamble, wracking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to criminals. The police, and Claire’s father, theorize that Spence saw Claire’s death as a means to pay his debts. It is an unlikely scenario and therefore difficult to accept Claire’s willingness to contemplate that Spence tried to have her killed. Their marriage, prior to the shooting and Spence’s subsequent depression, was happy. To Claire’s knowledge there was no reason why her loving husband would want her dead. To further strain credibility the evidence presented to Claire, an audio recording and emails, are the flimsiest, easily altered sort. Yet Claire takes the charges against Spence at face value without ever attempting to talk to Spence about it. Her actions simply do not add up.
The extent of what Spence did or did not do prior to page one, is spelled out by the book’s half way point, but what is clear immediately is that Spence has been framed. It is never Thompson’s intention to allow the reader to wonder: did Spence do it? The feeble suspicion that is cast upon him is dispelled when the narrative enters his point of view. The alleged murder and murder for hire are a setup that Spence’s depression and gambling addiction coincidentally play into. Spence’s gambling debts, and holder of those debts, a gang leader, are another point wherein the plot strains credibility: any debt owed to a bookie or a street thug, isn’t recognized as valid under the law. If a bookie or gang leader were to threaten a debtor with violence, that debtor could then go the police. Seems a cop would know that. Spence is a cop, but plays along with the I-owe-money-to-the-scary-mobsters as though he has no understanding of the law himself. He’s in a bad place; he’s horribly upset with the state of his life, but this isn’t rocket science.
The mystery and intrigue of The Deadliest Denial is in finding out who framed Spence and why. Shortly after Spence’s released on bail, he finds Claire to plead his innocence. Despite her continued doubts, the two team up to get to the bottom of the setup, and clear Spence’s name. The Who isn’t much of a mystery, but Thompson does a convincing job of weaving in The Why and building her story so that it folds neatly back in on itself, even if coincidence plays too large a role in laying the truth bare.
Unfortunately, The Deadliest Denial is crippled with credibility issues. Too often the characters’ actions and emotions simply do not follow or feel organic. This makes both Claire and Spence easily dismissible and difficult to root for. There is little fear that Spence will fail to be exonerated at the book’s conclusion, because the evidence to condemning him is nonexistent. In the end, The Deadliest Denial too often insults the reader’s intelligence with plot points that strain credibility, and then further panders to cliché by forcing its characters to act in a way that creates hollow drama and conflict.
You can visit Colleen here and purchase this book here and here.