Deception is a Gothic-wannabe that gets some of the atmosphere right, but rarely succeeds in capturing the requisite tension and menace,
Three years ago in India, Captain Foxton Tremayne was forced to take the fall for a mistake made by his superior officer which cost the lives of many of his men. Due to pressure from the superior officer’s father, a powerful duke, Fox was drummed out of the army and subsequently lost his fiancée, his estate, his fortune, and his reputation. “Traitor Tremayne” is now in London, a rich man as a result of his prowess at confidence games he runs with the help of his co-conspirators who call themselves “The Assembly.” He bilks rich, corrupt men and uses a good deal of the proceeds to help “The Ladies” – the widows and families of those men killed in India. His own name being anathema, he uses a variety of names, disguises and personas, rarely appearing publicly as himself. One of his guises is “Mr. Syer” who has taken a great deal of money from the nasty Gilbert Millington.
Gilbert Millington is a nasty piece of work who systematically beggared his late brother’s estate and now claims that there are no funds to ransom his nephew – and the rightful owner of the estate – who is a soldier being held by a splinter group in Spain. Sister Isabel learns of her uncle’s treachery and runs away, sending word to her maternal uncle in Sweden asking for help. She travels to London to meet with “Mr. Syer” to try and get some of the money back to ransom her brother. She is turned from the door only to be hired several days later by Foxton to be a companion and tutor to his 17-year-old sister. He isn’t sure if Isabel is an innocent or has been sent to spy on his operations, but he plans to keep her close until he can find out.
Deception tries hard to be a Gothic novel, and it has all the trappings: a neglected house on an island in the midst of a marsh, a master with a dangerous reputation, odd servants with missing body parts, secret rooms, bad weather, a timid sister. But there isn’t much tension here. It becomes clear to Isabel very early that Fox is a Good Guy, adored by his family, servants, and villagers alike. And it is equally clear to Fox that Isabel is an innocent, though she is obviously hiding something.
I like the relationship Isabel formed with Fox’s shy sister, and though there are some nice moments between Isabel and Fox, their insistence on keeping their stories to themselves is frustrating. But even more frustrating is that the entire middle third of the book dragged. Nothing happened for the longest time as everyone circled around everyone else. And while I liked both Isabel and Fox, and each felt the inevitability of the pairing, there wasn’t much sexual tension between the two. This book rated only a “Kisses” sensuality ranking; I would have liked to have seen a bit more of the outward manifestation of their love. It was all fairly tame and flat.
Deception had potential, but there were too many missed opportunities, both in the relationship and in the storytelling, for me to recommend it.