Step into my parlor, said the spider to the fly…
Web of Deceit by Darlene Cox tells the story of Peter Brock, a founding partner in a prestigious New York law firm. When Peter meets James Campbell, a wealthy yet crude diamond trader, he begins to hatch a plan. A perfect plan. With the patience of a spider he sets his scheme into motion. His goal: to help Campbell hide the bulk of his wealth in off-shore bank accounts and to divert a large portion of that wealth into his own accounts.
It seems like a fool-proof scheme, with little risk. If Campbell ever discovers the betrayal there will be little he can do about it. He is, after all, illegally hiding his wealth from the government.
The only flaw in this seemingly perfect plan is the flaw that has brought down conspiracies and devious plots throughout history. The human factor. A perfect plan revealed to another loses it's chance of success by half. Partners in crime rarely remain so for long. The person once regarded as 'partner' quickly takes on the role of liability, a weak link who cannot be trusted. The higher the stakes become the higher the likelihood that someone will trip up.
The complexity of his plan forces Peter to enlist the help of a few outside players. In order to keep control he chooses to use women over whom he holds sway. Women who will never understand the complexity of the plan he has conceived. Knowing and unknowing pawns in an intriguing game of international larceny. But when two people end up dead Peter finds himself ensnared in his own web.
As his web begins to unravel Peter realizes that the pawns he has put into place — or at least one of them — has plans of their own. A perfect plan. And he is helpless to escape the web that he, himself, has built.
Web of Deceit is compelling as a murder mystery, with unpredictable twists and turns and an ending that the reader would never have suspected. Yet it fails to reach its full potential in some areas. It could have been a titillating, suspenseful novel. It should have been more bold. There were missed opportunities to build tension, to force the reader into a moral paradox, to tell a seductive story that's impossible to put down. These things were hinted at, but never quite brought to fruition.
There was a possibility to take this novel where few authors dare to venture. Jackie Collins and Harold Robbins have taken readers into the deep, dark underbelly of the world of the rich and powerful, shocking readers with their tales of greed, violence, and debauchery. Web of Deceit could have escalated to those heights, and nearly does, but there is a certain timidity, a choice to play it safe rather than risk it all that prevents it from reaching its full potential.
The one thing notably missing is sex. There are mentions of sex: strippers, escorts, the sexual depravity of men who are accustomed to taking what they want and leaving destruction in their wake. But the actual sex has been expurgated almost completely. When Thomas Bowdler set about sanitizing Shakespeare the controversy was that through censorship he had not only changed the story, he had lost the moral message. I think this is true of Web of Deceit as well. By obfuscating the dirty little proclivities of the characters, one is left with a certain ambivalence, a lack of connection.
Cox uses a simple literary device very effectively by introducing the audience in the very beginning of the book to a touchstone, quite literally. During the course of the book the reader is reminded of Peter's original commitment, a commitment made by a young boy to overcome his ravaged childhood. A river stone that he picked up on the day of his commitment is used as a reminder to us, at his darkest moments, of the boy who made that commitment. The reason that he does what he does.
The storyline develops slowly, introducing characters and their backgrounds in a measured manner. The pawns are set in place as the web is woven. There is a potential for betrayal and murder in each, but which one of them would actually do it? They all have everything to gain and nothing to lose. But one is truly the master of the game, cleverly turning Peter into an unwitting pawn and leaving him with no way out.
Web of Deceit wraps up nicely on an unexpected twist. All I can say is that I never saw that one coming. Very intriguing. It also ends with 'To Be Continued.' I'm interested to see where the author plans to take this story next. I'm hoping that the next book delivers on all of the promise of this first book, as well as Darlene Cox's first novel, the well-received A Little Bit of Larceny. I hope that it reaches its full potential as a provocative, intriguing, tightly-wound thriller.