Ben is a respected teacher and family man with a wife and two beautiful children. When his new head teacher invites television cameras into the school to film Educating Bristol, he becomes well-known for his unique methods of inspiring the students.
But when a tragic accident threatens to rip his family apart, Ben finds himself in a fight for justice with the system stacked against him.
An Honest Deceit is the fourth novel from author Guy Mankowski. It’s a departure from his previous book, which followed a music journalist as he tried to track down the singer of a post-punk band who famously disappeared twenty years earlier (read my review).
This psychological thriller sees a violent clash between family and the demands of the workplace. When Ben’s daughter is killed in an accident on a school trip, he suspects that Kraver, his boss and the school’s new head teacher, has arranged a cover up. But his efforts to argue his case lead to disciplinary action, as the school turn his accusations against him, declaring him unfit to do the job he loves.
While writing An Honest Deceit, Mankowski received a grant to carry out research into corporate whistleblowing, which led to him interviewing experts in corruption, from FIFA to the world of finance. It’s interesting to see how this translates into a book that has family at its heart. The author could have chosen a different location, perhaps a global business or a government agency, but he has kept the focus on a school, which anchors the story in a family setting that will be easier for readers to relate to. It shows that the effects of power and corruption are not unique to the upper echelons of the corporate world.
The book begins as a story about family and life in the education system. It is only after the accident that the focus shifts to Ben’s fight against his employer. Having read little about the story beforehand, I was surprised by the change in direction, but it did make sense of the opening chapters, which moved quickly through Ben’s back story: the meeting with his wife, the arrival of their children and his early teaching career. The story really begins after the accident.
The first chapter of the novel describes a family day out at the seaside. It’s a beautiful day, but that feels heavy with a sense of doom, as Ben narrates events looking back, after the family has been affected by the accident. This foreshadowing lets the reader know that these halcyon days will not continue.
But it is the scenes surrounding the accident, as Ben and his wife rush to be with their daughter Marine, which are the most powerful. Mankowski describes the miserable, rain swept setting to great effect, as well as the sense of despair that the couple feel, not knowing what awaits them at the scene of the accident.
As the story’s bad guy, the character of Kraver felt a bit flat to me. He comes across as an ambitious and cold-hearted man, quick to cover up anything that might derail his own plans for success, not caring about the lives he destroys in the process. I would have liked to learn more about him and his motivations, to see his emotions in play as he manipulates and intimidates Ben in such a shocking way.
This is an uncomfortable book to read at times, as Ben confronts the forces at work against him however he can. But it is in the quieter moments, when we glimpse the raw edge of the family’s emotion, that this novel is at its best.
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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.