The Deep End
Traci Hunter Abramson
Covenant Communications, 2007
Christal Jones is a world-class swimmer, with dreams of one day competing in the Olympics. Her determination and steely will hold much promise for the young LDS athlete. But when she becomes a witness in a high-profile criminal case and is forced to enter the Witness Protection Program until she can testify, her dreams of Olympic gold seem to fade.
The FBI works out ways for Christal (known as CJ throughout the rest of the book) to train and compete in local contests, but she must register under a different name each time, and be accompanied by heavy security. The key will be: can they allow CJ to pursue her dream and yet stay alive long enough to testify at trial?
She is surrounded by caring and competent people. Her husband Matt is a professional baseball player, whose life is complicated by the necessity for them to hide their marriage from the world lest Matt’s life be placed in jeopardy. Other agents are determined to see that she is protected and kept safe.
Stalking CJ is a really bad character named Jimmy Malloy. He is determined to move up in the crime hierarchy by taking out CJ before the upcoming trial. The only other witness had been located and murdered. Now it’s only CJ who stands between Jimmy’s boss and a certain life sentence. Jimmy will stop at nothing to find CJ and destroy her.
And, in fact, there are several times when CJ is located and her life endangered. A dedicated FBI team keeps her safe, but time is growing short and Malloy is becoming more desperate. Mixed into this is a missing shipment of diamonds. Malloy is certain that CJ has the diamonds. He will pull out all the stops to get his hands on the rocks.
On balance, The Deep End is an enjoyable and often exciting read. I did, however, have a problem classifying this book. Is this a mystery? A love story? A primer on competitive swimming? The author has experience in all three areas, and combines the elements effectively. I did think, however, that there was a bit too much emphasis on the details of swimming and swim meets. Toward the middle of the book, several chapters focused on her competitive swimming, with no movement in the danger aspect of the story — what I thought was the central theme.
I also had some ethical questions about the main character. About a third of the way into the book, we learn that, if CJ skips the upcoming Olympics, she’ll still be young enough to compete four years later. Given this fact, why the hurry to enter the games? And why put the lives of so many good people in danger in order to fulfill your own dreams? I fretted that CJ voiced concerns about this only once in the book. Her one instant of introspection about whether her goals were, in fact, selfish and unfair to the agents protecting her, redeemed her a bit in my eyes. But I would have thought that a Latter-day Saint young woman would understand that putting others’ lives in danger is not an acceptable option, no matter how glorious the prize at the end.
I suspect Abramson was more concerned about developing an engaging story than in contemplating such ethical issues. And that’s okay. This is not a theological treatise, but rather a casual read that can be enjoyed by Mormon and non-Mormon readers alike. I sometimes miss out on the full enjoyment of a novel when I start asking such questions about the characters.
But I enjoyed and appreciated the author’s attempt to flesh out the characters, to make them come alive in the mind of the reader. Despite my reservations about CJ’s single-minded goal to compete in the Olympics, I did want her to succeed. I wanted everything to come out well for all the good characters.
The Deep End is enjoyable casual reading. You can learn a lot about swimming, and a bit about the complexities of working in the Witness Protection Program. You can also see an accomplished writer at work, one who knows how to develop a story and bring life to its characters. Summer is almost over, but here we have yet another pleasant summer read. Enjoy!