I had never read anything by Kelli Owen before I picked up "Deceiver." That did not make me hesitate for a second, however, since this is a DarkFuse novella and I am very familiar with the quality of fiction that DarkFuse publishes as well as the fact that some of my favorite authors were first introduced to me through DarkFuse (or its predecessor, Delirium Books). I was hoping to find another such experience when I started this short novella.
When Matt Newman's wife is murdered while travelling on business, his life is shattered. He feels as if his purpose in life has now been taken away from him. When Matt finally works up the courage to open his wife's suitcase and go through the items that she had brought with her on that final journey, he discovers a notebook in which she captured her personal recollections and observations of her travels. He knows that it will take courage to read the journal. He could never imagine just how much courage it will take to face the mystery that he finds in those pages.
Matt had been living with the guilt of having cheated on his wife in the past and almost destroying their relationship. The first pages of the journal seemed to reflect on this troubling time and his wife's love for him and her ability to work through the pain of his betrayal. Matt's grief turns into an almost overwhelming sense of guilt at the pain that he caused the woman he loved. The journal soon becomes much darker and Matt finds evidence of a secret life led by his wife when she was travelling as it begins to chronicle one night stands with strange men in motel rooms. This is not the worst thing that Matt will find in the journal, however, and he must now come to grips that the woman of his dreams might really have not been anything like what she had seemed.
"Deceiver" is a very short novella and Owen does a good job of building a fully formed story and characters in the few pages that make up the story. There is no shortage of character development and emotion in this novella and the depth of the story is surprising for such a short work. Owen is able to keep a clear focus on the story and keep it moving quickly along while still ensuring that the characters, and Matt in particular, are fully developed. Even Matt's wife seems to come alive through the journal pages that are presented in the book. This book is not so much read as experienced as Owen makes the reader experience what Matt is feeling as the contents of the journal are revealed and the tension builds toward the climax of the tale.
"Deceiver" is a very good book but not a perfect one. I thought that the final twist of the story was a bit too obvious as I had figured out how the story was going to end early on in the story (although I am admittedly very good at doing this, so it may not be as obvious to other readers). This kept me from enjoying the story as much as I could have since the tension that Owen seems to craft so well ultimately led to the ending that I was expecting all along. Still, Owen shows that she knows how to handle an emotionally-charged story as well as how to work with the kind of horror that is subtle and building rather than in the reader's face. "Deceiver" is a good novella and one that is the perfect length to be enjoyed in one sitting.
I would like to thank DarkFuse and NetGalley for this advance review copy. "Deceiver" is scheduled to be released by DarkFuse in June and is available for preorder now.