Marcia Muller Point Deception Reviewed by Terry D'Auray

Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

Point Deception

Marcia Muller

Mysterious Press/Warner Books, Inc.

US Hardcover First

ISBN: 0-89296-690-4

Publication Date: July 31, 2001

305 Pages; $23.95

Date Reviewed: August 2, 2004

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2004





'Point Deception' marks the beginning of yet another series for Marcia Muller, creator of the renowned Sharon McCone female PI series and several other amateur sleuth mysteries. But it's a series with a twist, one in which the books are united not by a recurring protagonist and repeated supporting characters, but by their consistent setting in fictional Soledad County on California's Northern Coast. ('Cyanide Wells', the 2nd Soledad book was released in 2003; the 3rd, 'Cape Perdido' will come out sometime next year). 'Point Deception' carries Muller's trademarked realism, detailed settings, believable and engaging characters and well paced plotting, but differs from her previous work by being written in the third person and featuring both a female protagonist and a strong male lead. It's vintage Muller, hard-edged rather than hard-boiled, socially conscious, and just simply excellent.

Rhoda Swift is a sheriff's deputy in Soledad County. As a rookie she faced a traumatic and grisly mass murder in which seven people, including women and two children, were murdered, a crime that remains unsolved. Some thirteen years later, New York true-crime writer Guy Newberry, suffering from the death of his wife, is in Soledad to write about that mass murder and its consequences, and unsettling event for the local townspeople who would prefer simply to bury it. When the corpse of a young woman is found off nearby Point Deception, geography indeed foretells the story. Deception abounds in this small-town environment and tangled interactions and complex emotions are uprooted in the resolution of the crimes.

Rhoda Swift is a character that could easily carry a series of her own should Muller ever opt to tackle a police procedural. A young, small-town girl with brains and guts, she's loyal (to a fault) to her co-workers, good to her dog, has a love-hate relationship with her father, himself a former cop who's often hyper-critical of Rhoda's performance, and she's skillfully constructed a life of well-guarded emotional isolation.

Swift is not Sharon McCone updated or recast. Muller creates a new and original character, one who is outwardly tough but lacking the self-assurance and confidence that come from life experience. Guy Newberry, too, is a unique and strong character, with emotional baggage to go along with his brains, and Muller develops his character with the same sure hand she applies to her female ones. Both Rhoda and Ted are unveiled slowly, behave plausibly and ultimately ring true.

Two emotionally walled-off characters, one female and the other male - the expectation is that they connect, fall in love and live happily ever after. Muller meets the expectation, but in her own realistic - not facile and never phony - way. No swelling violins or frothy romance here, just two people who are attracted but wary, eager but cautious. Muller succeeds in building their relationship along with the story, and in surrounding them with equally believable supporting characters, all with both back-stories and backbone.

Muller writes crime novels and in so doing, must contend with violence and death. She does this unflinchingly and straightforwardly, but with a light touch. Guns, murders and beatings occur in her books, but they always have deep roots in both the plot and the characters. Muller's violence is crucial to her tale, but it is never gratuitous and never without consequence.

Muller's novels are each unique and each is thoroughly researched and finely detailed - no cut-and-paste retreads from her vast storehouse of past efforts. She touches all the bases of character, plot and setting without artifice, avoiding the obvious and the trite without oozing into the outrageous. She is first and best a storyteller, an assured writer whose plot and characters stay grounded and remain authentic. Like anyone at the top of her craft, Muller makes all this look deceptively easy, which it most assuredly is not. Her books have become my "Oreos and milk" comfort books, consistently good and sure to satisfy.

Note of Caution: Should you be prone to transposing words - a common affliction of the brain-addled, multi-tasker - beware. Should you pick up 'Deception Point' instead of 'Point Deception' you'll face something entirely different, by Dan Brown. The Oreos and milk analogy won't apply.