Reviewer John J. Hohn:
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English from St. John’s University (MN) in 1961. He is the father
of four sons and a daughter and a stepfather to a son. He and his
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Author: William H. Coles
Author: William H. Coles
Lies often begin as simple secrets. In William H. Coles’ novel, Guardian of Deceit, most characters want to keep something about themselves secret from the rest of the world. Coles characters are a phenomenon of the moment, to be taken as presented, often with little or no history to account for who they are or the way that they treat others. Coles is a master, however, at building character out of the stuff of circumstance.
Darwin Hastings is orphaned when his wealthy parents are killed in an automobile accident. An adolescent, his story begins with him well out of the throes of grief. The family member to take guardianship of Darwin until he becomes of age is a cousin who lives in Connecticut – super wealthy pro star quarterback Luther Pinnelli.
Luther has lots of secrets. He is a gambler who loves high stakes poker and owes the syndicate big bucks for all of his losses. He also abuses the women he dates, dates being nothing more than twenty minutes in a motel room. Luther ignores his supposed fiancée, the fabulously famous and beautiful pop singer Sweeney Pale. Sweeney professes desperate love for the abusive Luther.
Darwin meets Adrian Malverne, M. D., a famous orthopedic surgeon who lives in the same affluent neighborhood as Pinnelli. Malverne, saddled with an unfulfilling marriage and two spoiled daughters, seizes upon Darwin’s ambitions to become a doctor and begins guiding the young man toward a specialty that would put him in line to become a partner once his schooling is completed.
Malverne and his wife are clearly upper crust, Mrs. Malverne being the guardian of the social and cultural values of the home. Their daughters, Coral and Helen, readily take on the arrogant privileged attitudes of their home and launch into society morally rudderless.
Coles divides his book up into five segments and the thrust of the story changes somewhat as the reader moves from one section to the next. Most of the changes are in the focus on the characters, but each segment builds toward a conclusion. The book is a coming-of-age novel with a mystery thrown in toward the end. Bonita Thomas’ daughter, a minor character, goes missing, Bonita being Luther’s bookkeeper and accountant. Laszlo, Luther’s security guard with unexpressed feelings for Bonita, begins a search for the girl. The clues he uncovers implicate several and add to the suspense.
Darwin grows from an acquiescing youngster who accepts living in quarters unfit for the lowest paid member of the household staff to a forthright young man who risks his future when he insists that his wishes be respected in completing the guest list for his wedding.
Most of the people in Cole’s book are unhappy. Luther fails to find fulfillment in his wealth and fame. Sweeney becomes almost selfless in her fawning, adoring and unrequited love of Luther. Helen and Coral Malverne thrash about in their frustrated efforts to find a man before they find themselves.
The drama plays out for all of the major characters with many finding themselves at a place in the end where a second run at happiness is possible.
In Guardian of Deceit, Coles has lessons he wants reader to take away from his work. Darwin is frequently placed in circumstances where his silence is important, circumstances in which he must keep a secret. He never reports Luther’s abusive behavior. He accepts Malvern’s explanation as to why certain medical record charts were altered. He keeps Sweeney hopeful of marriage to Luther by withholding truthful reports of Luther’s feelings toward her.
Coles embeds commentary into the story and lets his characters speak of them. “I got caught up in the business of medicine. I made a lot of money, but I lost the satisfaction that good patient care can bring. I missed out.” Malverne says in a closing conversation with Darwin.
Falsifying a medical record is explained as necessary for insurance purposes. Protesting for a cause, Darwin observes at one point, is ineffective and a waste of time.
Cole’s straightforward style keeps the story moving. Against a trend in the novel that stresses dialogue with a minimum of description and expository writing, the author shows that a contemporary story remains a joy to read if the narrator’s own voice enters vigorously into the mix.
Guardian of Deceit is great tale with obvious moral implications. Happiness and fulfillment are possible when a person attends as integrity mandates to the needs of maintaining a healthy self. That care starts with being truthful. The immediate consequences of deceit usually include relief and avoidance. The longer term consequences, however, are beyond measuring and can be life defeating.