In the fall of his senior year, Jonah, drugged and incoherent, is thrown over the local “suicide” bridge into the dark waters below. With no witnesses present, police conclude it to be an accidental death. Shortly thereafter, Denise Gibbons, educational visionary and principal of Horizons Academy where Jonah attended school, meets her fate at the bottom of the same bridge.
Lena Conner, Jonah’s former therapist and aspiring sleuth is contacted by Jonah’s bereaved mother who convinces her to begin an investigation into Jonah’s mysterious death. Struggling with disappointment in her marriage, her adult children and her employment prospects, Lena dives into the investigation.
While Lena’s initial inquiries into Horizons Academy, a highly acclaimed, alternative high school, initially go nowhere, the arrest of an auto shop teacher and the production of Jonah’s phone records begin to reveal the shadowy inner-workings of the school. Aided by the reluctant assistance of her loyal husband, Bill, her deadbeat son, Caleb, and aloof Detective Andrews, Lena must survive threats to her safety and her marriage to unravel a conspiracy and ensure that a dark host of characters are held to account.
Straight up, this one's a toughie for me. Coming from a family of teachers, I was intrigued with the whole educational component of death and mayhem overshadowing an alternative school as promised in An Education in Deceit. How could and why would death be so closely tied to what happens within a school? The thought intrigued me.
However, almost from the first pages, I had a difficult time connecting in any way with our main characters. Middle-aged husband and wife, Bill and Lena, are facing problems most families struggle with in a downward spiraling economy. Lena has been laid off and has had no luck finding a job in her field. After months and months of searching, the phone is virtually silent and Lena is in a depressed funk that Bill simply can't comprehend. So she considers becoming a private investigator.
I understand that. Been there. Struggled with that whole identity crisis thing.
The thing is that even amidst these perfectly relatable events, no character here is likable. Lena and Bill reflect no respect for one another, their sons, their friends, and even their dog. They treat their dog, Biscuit, as if they want to run him right back to the pound because he whines so much. Bill uses every chance he can get to barter the strangest things for "husband and wife" time, such as the fact that Lena - who's supposed to be the private investigator - continually asks her husband to go tail someone until late in the night after he's been at work all day. Lena sees her younger, directionless son, who dropped out of college and now lives in the basement, as lazy and yet goes back and forth with him that she's going to kick him out / no she won't if he makes calls for her. Then the older son, who lives out of town and rarely calls his family, knocks up his girlfriend, tries to get her to have an abortion, then breaks up with her, is thought of as the successful son - and yet when they all get together at Christmas they disrespectfully play off of each other's weaknesses. I don't know. The whole family dynamic felt like one giant bi-polar roller coaster to me.
Besides having her husband do the following and stakeout work for her, she uses her youngest son, Caleb, to pose as a journalist intern working up a piece about the school and it's problems. Almost all of her investigative work is accomplished through having her son make phone calls for her while her husband follows suspects over periods of months and months where nothing happens. Lena does little to nothing - and little to nothing is what really happens in this story. Instead of investigating, the majority of time we're simply subjected to hand-wringing.
So since Lena isn't getting anywhere in her investigation, in order to tell the reader what really happened we are subjected to four or five flashbacks in the point-of-view of a couple of the deceased characters. Very contrived and not a convincing use of flashbacks. Why not actually show Lena doing some investigative work, digging this information up and piecing it together through a little bit of hard work? We're basically told all of these things instead of shown what Lena is supposed to be accomplishing until we're exposed to a bunch of massive info dumps in the midst of conversation. No discovery. No big reveal.
And we all know that telling instead of showing is a big button of mine. So much of the novel was jumping around and then telling the reader what went on instead of leading us along while said events happened all the way up to the very end of the book. The few little side stories had little to nothing to do with moving the plot forward and felt more like filler. Point-of-view had a few hiccups, but for the most part we were primarily in Lena's viewpoint.
One of my biggest issues had to do with editing. There were several instances where names of characters who were not even in the scene were mistakenly switched out for some other character (Sandra instead of Karen for one) or where Lena was asking Lena questions. Incorrect word usage was rampant: owe instead of oh, ya instead of yeah, peeked instead of piqued, there instead of their, and on and on.
An Education in Deceit's major editing issues, lack of sympathetic characters, far too much telling instead of showing, and a meandering storyline where little happened leaves me stranded with a rating of two stars.
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Eli Blackstone is the pen name of a part-time attorney and full time mother of two young children. After having her first child, Eli determined that it was time to take up writing in her free time, a passion that had been abandoned in the rigors of law school and building a family. Her first novel, Becoming Aaliyah, written under the pen name M.S. Rooney, which tells the story of a woman's journey to Judaism, can be found on Amazon. A lover of the mystery genre, Eli developed her second novel, A Education in Deceit, in hopes of crafting a mystery that would keep the reader guessing until the end. Eli hopes she succeeded.