James Scott Bell's "Deceived" feels like the first book in a series rather than a complete novel in its own right. Maybe it is and maybe it isn't--I couldn't find anything to indicate if we'll see a follow-up in the near future.
If there's not a follow-up, I may be disappointed.
During a hiking trip, Liz and her born-again husband stumble across a dead body. Near the body is a bag full of diamonds. Liz sees the diamonds as their chance to land on easy street while her husband wants nothing to do with them. His recent conversion to Christianity is causing friction in their marriage and his professional career. During their argument, Liz shoves him off a rock, causing him to fall to his death. Liz begins to hatch a plot to cover up the murder of her husband.
Meanwhile, we meet Mac, a Gulf War vet with issues. He's got Gulf War syndrome and intense pain in his head. He's been in jail for robbing a store, losing his wife and family in the process. Mac has come to the Lord and found a job as the handy-man for his church. But his probation officer seems to have it in for him and will stop at nothing to get Mac back into jail. We also meet Rocky, a female private investigator who was scarred when a dog mauled her as a child. She has just left her relationship with her abusive boyfriend. She's also the sister of the husband who died. Mac is the guy's best friend.
The storylines all come together, centered around the mystery of what happened and how Liz reacts. Liz makes a show of accepting God and being baptized. However, when some men come looking for the diamonds and the police start to poke holes in her story, Liz becomes more and more desperate, leading her to make some shocking decisions in the novel's final third.
For long periods of "Deceived," the story is gripping, entertaining and suspenseful. Bell is able to avoid the cliches of character within Christian fiction, making his character's struggles feel authentic and connect with the readers. You may be able to figure out where some things will lead, but the choices and characters never seem black or white, good or evil. However, the frustrating part comes when arcs that are put into motion but offer little or no resolution. Maybe Bell intended the story to be like life with no easy answers or maybe there's a second installment coming soon. Either way, I left the story feeling as if something were missing. I don't want everything wrapped up in a nice, neat package but some sense of resolution would be nice.