Harlan Donnally is former police officer turned restaurant owner. After a bullet ends his professional career in San Francisco, he moves to Mount Shasta and settles into an uneventful life. He is in what he believes is a series relationship with Janie, he maintains contact with his parents, and he has developed a strong friendship with Mauricio Aguilera. For ten years their businesses have been side-by-side, Harlan’s cafe and Mauricio’s fix-it shop. Harlan had spent hours listening to Mauricio’s stories about his journey from Mexico into the United States, about his determination to get an education so he can claim his piece of the American Dream. Harlan is the executor of Mauricio’s estate, not a surprise. But Harlan is surprised about what he learns about Mauricio and what the dying man requests in his last note to Harlan.
“My real name is Mauricio Quintero. On March 14, 1965, I shot and killed my father. I came home from school and caught him molesting my sister….I was fifteen. She was five….My sister’s name is Anna. I don’t know what her last name in now. I didn’t know what to do, so I took her up to Berkeley one night and left her on the doorstep of New Sky, one of those communes they had there back then…”
Harlan does his best to carry out his friend’s wishes. He discovers that Anna was adopted but he also learns that long before Mauricio died, Anna had been murdered. For years, the man believed to have killed her has been living in an asylum for the mentally ill; Charles Brown is also mentally handicapped so he has never been brought to trial. Now, Charles Brown is being released and the prosecution wants to get him into court to face charges on Anna’s murder but that becomes increasingly complicated when no one can definitively say if Charles in competent to stand trial.
Harlan feels he needs to resolve the questions about Anna’s murder and as he walks through her past, he finds himself confronting some of his own shadows. Harlan discovers himself looking through some of the most significant and complex issues of the US in the last forty years. The war in Vietnam, the war on drugs, institutionalized child abuse, pedophilia, the Catholic Church, and human trafficking are some of the things Harlan finds a part of the web that begins when Mauricio kills his father.
ACT OF DECEIT is one of the fastest moving books I have read in a long time. Harlan Donnally is an immensely likable character who I hope to meet again. Steven Gore, even so many years after the fact, offers some different and credible thoughts on the war in Vietnam. For entertainment value, ACT OF DECEIT is worth reading.
I received this book through Amazon Vine.