Because my family in Newport, Rhode Island, knew some of the people involved in the affair of Claus Von Bulow, accused of putting his rich wife Sunny into a persistent vegetative state with insulin, I once offered to give a cop acquaintance all the inside skinny on the scandal that fascinated the nation in the early 1980s, and inspired the movie “Reversal of Fortune” (1990 ).
He just shrugged and said, “High society murders are boring.”
He then quoted the Sherlock Holmes adage, “There is nothing so complex as simple murder.”
The case of a derelict found dead by the side of the road of blunt force trauma is generally going to be a lot harder to solve than that of the rich heiress who keels over at a dinner party with the scent of bitter almonds (cyanide) on her breath. (The butler did it.)
That is, the butler probably did it if he hated the rimes-with-witch, was mentioned in her will, and had a friend in a chem lab or had recently bought some cyanide (not exactly a hot item at the grocery store).
The entertainment in high society murder stories comes from the interplay of the characters, and the thrill we get from seeing that the high and mighty are no better than we are, we only hope more interesting. (Not especially, but they do have more money.)
To keep the mystery going, they’ve got to work hard at it and put in all kinds of complications that in real life make murders much easier to solve.
In “Deception” Vivian Bowers (Bree Williamson) a high society girl is found dead of a drug overdose, but with bruises on her face, including one which appears to have imprinted the distinctive marks of a signet ring.
The case comes to the attention of a beautiful detective Joanna Locasto (Meagan Good) who as it happens was the girlhood best friend of the deceased. Well actually she was the black maid’s daughter who grew up with the rich girl. In spite of the Southern Gothic trappings this takes place in New York.
Locasto shows up for the funeral with a story of escaping a relationship with an abusive boyfriend and in short order is invited to sleep over for the funeral, and then offered a job by the deceased’s daddy, pharmaceutical tycoon Robert Bowers (Victor Garber).
Add in a love triangle. Locasto has history with the handsome son/brother of the family Julian Bowers (Wes Brown), who is a primary suspect, and Will Moreno (Laz Alonzo) the cop she’s partnering with on the case. The flame is re-ignited with Moreno, but then it seems advantageous to fan the embers of her former romance with Julian. Straight out of Hitchcock’s “Notorious” (1946).
Oh, and did I mention the older brother of the family Edward (Tate Donovan) who was trying to get his sister disinherited? And that as a teenager he was the prime suspect in the rape and murder of a young girl? And is anybody going to miss the allusion to the case of Kennedy family scion Michael Skakel now in prison for a similar murder?
She agrees to take the job and wear a wire and by the end of the pilot episode, there’s been another murder of a paparazzi who’s snooping around for scandal.
Now by this time they’ve got to explain why the feds are spending so much time and energy on what appears to be just another rich dead junkie.
Well, it turns out Robert’s drug company is marketing a drug that kills people, because drug companies get rich by killing their customers don’t you know. And maybe Vivian knew something…
So Joanna is sent in under deep cover to gather evidence that no prosecuting attorney would touch with a ten-foot-pole because of the detective’s prior relationship with the suspects, investigators, etc.
The first thing she discovers is the deceased was clean and drug-free for a while before her death – and pregnant. This had somehow been missed by the coroner.
This rouses the suspicions of the hardened investigator who has never known junkies to relapse or get into abusive relationships with men who hit them in the face.
Joanna discovers a sex tape on Vivian’s computer which has a conversation with a stranger who tells Vivian that this time things are going to be different.
She also discovers that that Vivian’s troubled little sister, who calls Joanna “House guest” in a manner so reeking of disdain you just know she’s going to wind up her confidant and BFF, is actually Vivian’s out-of-wedlock daughter being raised as Robert and his second wife Sophia’s (Katherine LaNasa) stepdaughter.
The pilot ends with Julian crying alone in the night, slipping a signet ring with a design just like the marks on his dead sister’s face off his finger and throwing it away.
Of course nobody in the family looked at the corpse’s face at identification and said, “Hey that mark looks just like Julian’s ring!”
And of course nobody who loves someone who is seriously screwing up their own life has ever had a desire to smack them hard.
And since it is the pilot, you already know it can’t have been Julian, just because they seem to have shown it is. Got to keep the mystery going until the series is cancelled.