Book Review: Deception, by V.K. Powell

Content warning for drugs, and one case of sexual violence. Genre : F/F fiction, mystery, romance

I said it before, judging a book by its cover is a hasty mistake, and while Deception's cover doesn't seem much, the book it hides is infinitely more solid. For people like me who care very little (to say the least) about the police or the military, rest reassured: this book deals more with the toll war takes on its soldiers and the somewhat lacking way the US deals with its veterans. Homelessness, disability and PTSD are all problems they face, and today still their suicide and poverty rates are high.

Colby Vincent's first field mission as a DEA agent might be hard on her, but she's uniquely suited to the task. As a veteran, she'll be able to blend in easily in the crowd of homeless vets populating the streets of Greensborough. Someone is using them to gather large amounts of drugs illegally, so they can be sold for a hundred times their price on the streets. Very lucrative, and facing less police scrutiny than cocaine or meth deals, prescription drug dealing is often the only way to survive for vulnerable homeless vets, and someone is well aware of that fact. But when her investigation leads her to meet Adena Weber, the owner of a help center for the homeless who's conducting her own investigation into the murder of her father, heat sparks, and Colby's growing interest in the woman might well blow her cover.

Despite my initial disbelief that inserting an undercover agent into the world of the homeless would be done through drugging her, shaving her head without consent and then beating her up before leaving her stranded in a homeless refuge; it's fairly easy to see that VK Powell knows her subject. Her rendition of homelessness is honest and humane, and she easily brings us into this community of marginalized people who came back from wars with nothing to their name and no prospect of a future. Colby soon finds herself facing the challenges and dangers of a homeless person trying to survive in a society that criminalizes many of their means for survival (such as panhandling).

Adena Weber is a lawyer and a philanthropist who spends most of her time either in her practice, doing pro bono cases for clients who do not have the means to pay her, or volunteering in the management of her own center for the homeless. Ever since her dad was murdered a year ago, she's been unable to let go, and she's firmly set on finding the truth behind the murder. When the police tells her he was probably killed by a vagrant, she refuses to believe it and sets herself on the trail despite danger looming about. Someone doesn't want her to find the truth, and this person might well decide to kill another Weber to protect the secret.

Adena is also a very moral person, firmly bent on not having more than a professional relationship with guests of the center. But Colby soon catches her eyes and she cannot help but wonder what lies behind Colby's strange behavior and secrets. As both women struggle not to jeopardize their own missions, while growing fonder of each other, the weight of Colby's secret becomes heavier, and there's soon no other way for Colby but to keep up the lie, especially when Adena might well be connected to the drug traffic...

It's been a little while since I read a mystery novel and this one certainly proves to be quite enjoyable. Colby is entirely ignorant of the new terrain she finds herself in, and we learn with her how rough it can be for a woman to live on the streets. The ending felt a bit rushed, and perhaps her investigation could have been longer, and use less deus ex machinas to drive the plot. But the book is divided in equal parts romance and mystery, and I felt the balance between those two elements was to my taste. I had been trying to read something else than just romance, and it definitely did the job. 

Despite the disappointment I felt at the ending being somewhat rushed, I concede that it remains believable (at least the investigation part does). Fiction often lulls us into unbelievable endings where a main character takes on far more than a real person in her place would; as a police veteran, VK Powell knows well what police officers do or do not do, and her tight writing made me go through the book very quickly. It's a good read for someone seeking a book that lies in the middle between romance and mystery.

Deception will be published by Bold Strokes Books and can be preordered on the Publisher's website.

  Rachel Vigo is a would-be critical geographer from Paris (the one in France, not the one in Texas). She is an avid devourer of books and plays video-games far too much.