Depths of Deception

Happy October! As we enter the month of October, here in New England, we welcome cooler days and crisp-cold nights, pumpkins and gourds, agricultural fairs, and my favorite: apple cider donuts. I adore fall. (If it weren’t so close to winter, it would be my favorite season!) Fall also brings more writing time for this busy parent, and I’m excited to jump back into a few projects that have been languishing.  The story in progress? All about deception. How apropos!

Is deception just a nice word for lie? Deception sounds more sophisticated, more educated, more acceptable than “lie” somehow. On the Cambridge Dictionary site, I found a statement to the effect that the word deception does not inherently suggest blame. For instance, a magician practices deception for the purpose of entertaining an audience. Another source explained that deception is “the act of hiding the truth, especially to get an advantage.” So, not being untruthful, exactly, but perhaps hiding the truth.

Deception is certainly a key aspect of the mystery genre. Without deception, our stories would be rather flat and predictable. The trick, of course, is to deceive while treating readers fairly, too. Weaving deception throughout the story, with both dexterity and purpose, is the goal.

With a bit more research, I found this statement: “Deception itself is intentionally managing verbal and/or nonverbal messages so that the message receiver will believe in a way that the message sender knows is false.” (Thank you,

Juicy, right? And somehow, I immediately began thinking about Agatha Christie. Her stories were delightful in their use of nuance and deception. Ten Little Indians. Murder on the Orient Express. P.D. James once said of Christie, “Her prime skill as a storyteller is the talent to deceive…she seduces us into deceiving ourselves.”

Now tell me–what author do you think is the master/mistress of deception? Do you have a favorite example?






Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

11 thoughts on “Depths of Deception”

  1. Christie was the queen of deception. While I know she didn’t “invent” mysteries, to my mind, she invented the modern mystery novel. So many writers have tried and failed to do the locked room stories. Without the knack of deception, they all fall flat. Other writers? Doyle (I almost said Holmes-Kait, he was fictional), Sherlock “uncovered” his clues through deduction (and a dash of opium). They were always in plain sight. Sayers, another member of The Deception Club and a genius at both deception and the humorous cozy. PD James herself. Dalgliesh was an amazing sleuth, but at the end of the day, his cases were solved by a reinterpretation of the commonplace. Good blog, Pamela.


  2. I agree that Christie was the queen at this. And there are so many other good ones, too. One of my favorites was Thomas Tryon’s The Other. And the movie The Sixth Sense!


  3. Thoms Tryon, why do I never think of him when I loved The Other. I knew the ending to The Sixth Sense from the git go. I worked in an emergency room at one time in my life–so for me, any other outcome would have been fantasy. Interesting enough, I saw the movie with a cop friend — he was taken completely by surprise. But he thought The Thomas Crowne Affair was boring because he had it from the start.


  4. Christie indeed. I’ve taught Murder of Roger Ackroyd several times–and my favorite part of the lesson plans comes on the final day when we got back through the book and see all the times the text is practically SCREAMING with clues about the truth of what’s going on. Only on rereading do we see the (potentially) obvious—the other layer woven into the purposeful (and deceptive) ambiguity.

    Good post here!


  5. Great post, Pamela! I love that deception is the theme for October…it’s so fitting. Agatha definitely comes to mind as she really is the queen of deception. Tana French and Gillian Flynn, too–in their stories even the protagonists are deceptive! Tangentially, I just watched the pilot for the show This is Us and was blown away by the twist ending!


  6. I have to cast my vote for Agatha Christie. People claim she cheats, but really. If you read carefully, the information is there. But I’ve read Roger Ackroyd so many times and the ending STILL gives me a little jolt. That’s when you know the writing is good.


  7. Deception. What a juicy word! I am not one of those readers who tries very hard to figure out the mystery. I love letting it wash over me instead, so pretty much any author deceives me. I’m happy to be led down that path wherever they want me to go, but if *I* see it coming, you know it wasn’t done very well!


  8. I agree with all the posts. Christie was a master of deception, but really, all mystery books and writers are masters of deception. The deception is the heart of a good mystery/thriller/crime novel. If it weren’t a deceptive story, it would just be a story, not a mystery. Speaking of deception, I just finished “You Will Know Me” by Megan Abbott which was total deception from start to finish. I will never look at Olympic gymnastics in the same way again. I am now reading her “Dare Me,” and I know I will never feel the same about cheerleaders when I am finished.


  9. A little twist to this terrific post: I just finished listening to the audiobook, AS TIME GOES BY by Mary Higgins Clark. It was predictable, I had it from the beginning, but MHC is such a gifted story teller I enjoyed “watching” the story unfold. With suspense and thrillers, the reader often knows upfront what the end of the ride is going to look like, but it’s that roller-coaster, tummy-tossing feeling that keeps them turning pages.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s