Swan Deception opens at a fancy cafe in a fancy Boston suburb. The Cooper family—mother Shelby, father Jason, teen daughter Abbie, and 11-year-old son Miles—are having breakfast. Shelby sees a man who startles her so badly she spills her green tea. Then he disappears, calling her on her phone a few minutes later. After Shelby lies to her husband, Shelby and her Burberry coat meet the man out in back of the restaurant. The man, Alessandro, is her former physical therapist who nursed her back to health after her motorcycle crash; they also had an affair. Now he needs Shelby’s help to leave the country with his two small children to escape his abusive wife. She agrees to help by giving him a large sum of cash, acquiring illegal passports, and arranging a private jet. You might think that the conflict with Alessandro—the hidden affair, the abetting of kidnapping, the abusive wife—would form the groundwork of this thriller. You would be very, very wrong.
Dr. Shelby Cooper pulls in a big salary a bioinformatics lab. Her husband is about to ascend to CEO of a global software company. The stakes for their family are high. That’s when a stalker emerges and begins threatening Shelby and her family, and the real plot(s) begin.
Unfortunately, although the book is billed as a thriller, it is not one: it is a soap opera. Nearly every character has a secret that hangs over her head, or a secret motive, or a past identity that comes to light. The young people, the older people, the grandparents—no one is safe from the cliche of the “dark secret.” There are also far too many coincidences. Too many people from the various characters’ pasts end up in the present, muddying up the storyline.
There are also character inconsistencies: For example, surely a middle-aged woman who loves her diamonds and Burberry, who has two children, and who is a leader in the field of bioinformatics would know the statistical dangers of motorcycles—and would avoid them. Yet the entire novel turns on her statistically likely, near-deadly motorcycle crash. And how could Shelby and Jason, two highly intelligent people who have been married for 15 years, have kept so many high-stakes secrets from one another—and yet also claim to be soul mates? There were also factual inconsistencies: the green tea at the beginning? A few pages later it turns into espresso. At one point, Jason is drinking his second glass of scotch, then suddenly feels the need for a second glass of scotch. A blocked texter is suddenly able to send text messages again. And more. These inconsistencies, as well as the overblown plot, are the sorts of things a good independent editor would have been able to help an author with.
Although the book had its challenges, it had its plusses, too. The author has a great ear for dialogue, and the plot certainly was not predictable. Abbie, Shelby’s daughter, grew on me as I got into the book—after a rough start where she made some questionable choices, she became just the right blend of smart, innocent, and straight-talking. (Apparently, Abbie is the main character of the author’s next book.) Lastly, as a reader, it was a dream to read a book filled with a cast of characters who were African American and who were in leading roles and not relegated to the background, characters who were people from all walks of life facing a variety of struggles.
Kabongo shows a lot of promise as an author, but this book needs an editor to help wrangle the plot lines, the characters, and the details. Not every character needs a dark secret to hold a reader’s interest, and sometimes less is more when it comes to plot. However: If you liked Desperate Housewives, if you can never have enough skeletons in the closet, if you cannot get enough of juicy secrets being revealed, then this is the book for you.
3 Stars (out of 5): Pretty good. Sure, there were some issues, but it was still worth the read.
The Pros & Cons
Pros: Surprise Ending
Cons: Character Developement, Plotline, Suspension of Disbelief
More about Swan Deception
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