Deception" is the American title given to the U.K.-titled Sanctum, a standalone mystery by Scottish author Denise Mina that is set in her hometown of Glasgow. It is her fifth novel: she is also the author of Garnethill, which won the John Creasey Memorial Dagger for best crime novel. Her novels have all been set in her native city, and all illustrate, by their wit, their bloody-mindedness, and their sheer bloodthirstiness, why she, like Val McDermid, must be considered one of the leading practitioners of that Scottish school of mystery writing, tartan noir. Furthermore, like the works of two other well-known British female mystery authors, Minette Walters and Ruth Rendell, they also have strong psychological components. The book at hand is the intricately plotted story, apparently, of a hapless suburban house husband - though he'd more likely be called gormless by our cousins across the pond - Dr. Lachlin Harriot. He has quit his general practitioner's job to take care of their toddler Margie, while his wife, Dr. Susie Harriot, one of Glasgow's outstanding forensic psychiatrists, continues her highly-paid career in prison work. As the book opens, Susie is, shockingly, standing trial for the murder of a serial killer in her care. And Lachlan is ransacking her formerly locked home office, looking for evidence to clear her. In the attic cubbyhole he was once forbidden to enter, he discovers disturbing material: transcripts of private conversations, photographs, letters betraying illicit affairs and false identities. As Susie is found guilty and languishes in jail, we will learn that Lachlin has been/can be deceptive himself and can deceive even himself; and, eventually, to his unnerved astonishment, that Susie has been deceiving him. And that Susie, in a stunning conclusion, has been deceived herself. "Deception" perhaps overuses the 1990's game that its elements are actually factual, that information has been found in journals, diaries, newspaper articles and so forth. However, Mina is such a master of contemporary language and culture, and the brevity of her wit is so bracing, that I can brush this off. At one point, as Lachlan describes a series of articles on his wife's case, he says, "They're pretty samey, more or less descriptions of the interviewees' poverty-ridden circumstances interspersed with heavy hints about how melancholy Donagh feels about the murders and how grim the world looks to his sensitive yet manly and unafraid Irish soul. His writing is a bit florid for my tastes." Lachlan is a would-be writer himself: it's one of the excuses he used to become a househusband, and he soon describes his writing aims as, "I've always wanted to write, but not all this rubbish about feelings; I want to write clever things about the death of empire, about big theories and themes that will win me the respect of Martin Amis and get me into Soho House." He will describe a character he meets as: "He's simultaneously repellent and sympathetic. It's like he's got his charisma on backward." As Lachlan further describes his teatime meeting with this character he notes, "Some of the cream had squished out of the side of the cake and got stuck to his chin. In the ensuing conversation it began to look more and more like a big lump of dried cum." And, as ever, Mina is without equal in singing her home port, and its scary, black, cold heart, the River Clyde. She discusses the initial murders of the case, the serial killer's depredations -- in Lachlin's voice - by remarking: "It was all over the papers around the time of our wedding. They called him the Water Rat because the bodies were always abandoned near the River Clyde. The name was alarming; it sounded as if the killer was climbing out of the water, hunting people, and then slipping back into the dark river. A historian on television at the time said that when the River Clyde stopped supporting Glasgow, when the ships went to be built elsewhere, then the brokenhearted city turned its back on the water. I realized that he was right: everything in Glasgow faces away from the river, all the buildings have their backs to it, and the fast roads skirting it to keep pedestrians away. The Water Rat felt like the river's revenge on the faithless city.... Our wedding reception was in a riverside hotel...I remember groups gathering around the glass walls, looking out at the dread water sneaking past the window, exchanging gossip about the case in an undertone." In 2002, crazed mystery fan that I am, I believe I stayed at that Glasgow riverside hotel. It was relatively new, pricey and luxurious, built with the capacity to host special events such as weddings, with outdoor terraces, etc., for use, climate permitting. But I was there in July, and the place was so cold and damp, I'd had to buy flannel pajamas: still readily available for purchase, mind you, in July. Understand: our Denise surely knows the cold heart of Glasgow.
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