John Harrison, mayor of River City, is a determined and charismatic man, currently campaigning for a third-term in office. However, the people of River City know little about the private man, as behind closed doors John exerts his power and influence in very damaging ways.
When his previously doting daughter, Lisa, turns sixteen years old, she becomes the focus of his violent and twisted behavior, which takes a very different form to that she has witnessed being inflicted upon her mother over the years. As her own home is turned into a place of danger and fear, Lisa knows that she must get as far away from him as possible. When she discovers a trail of corruption which stretches from the police department to her own father, she realizes that alone she is no match for her fatherís determination.
John is not prepared to let his daughter go so easily and calls upon his many friends in high places - who depend on his continuing position in office in order to carry out their own agendas - to track her down. When Lisaís mother, Marie, finds her diary and learns the disturbing and shocking truth about her daughterís disappearance, she resolves to find Lisa before her dominating husband and enlists the help of local pastor, Dan Booker. As more people are involved and the potential threat to Johnís reputation and career intensifies, the lengths he is prepared to go to become more extreme and dangerous.
Deadly Behavior examines the popular notion of small town life, where everybody would like to think they know everybody elseís business, but beneath the surface many homes hide dark secrets. Author Dee Sullivan tackles many serious issues, including domestic violence, incest and institutional abuse and their effects not only on the family unit but also on the whole community. The narrative is written in the third-person from the point of view of all main characters and moves between moments of fast-paced drama and introspection, giving an insight into the thought processes of victim, abuser and other characters as they come to terms with the horror of events.
Johnís violence against his own family highlights the cyclic nature of abuse, where victim becomes perpetrator, as shadows from his past continue to plague his thoughts. By focusing on religious themes such as healing, forgiveness and redemption Sullivan suggests that even the most heinous of crimes can be forgiven if the person responsible repents. The actions of characters motivated by greed and power, are contrasted to those who uphold strong Christian values and put others before themselves. Lisa is forced initially to look outside of her family for protection and support, and through the generosity shown to her by complete strangers is led to a greater understanding of what it means to be a Christian. She turns to the power of prayer as her plight becomes increasingly terrifying, and the disturbing scenes of brutality she has to endure are uncomfortable to read but make the identification with character more profound.
Lisa is an admirable and brave heroine who, through her own character and her faith in others as well as religion, is able to find the strength to survive. By speaking out against her father, Lisa is aware that she is ultimately putting an end to her parentsí marriage, but in doing so she hopes to protect her mother from further abuse. Sullivanís legal background is evident in the depth of her characters and the complex range of emotions they experience. In the mother character, Marie, she presents a sympathetic portrait of a woman who has lived through years of abuse in silence and who feels guilt at her failure to protect her daughter in the knowledge that she has concealed her husbandís violent behavior. But Marie is able to overcome what she perceives as her shortcomings, and as she struggles to come to terms with her husbandís actions, she manages to find the strength help her daughter.
Deadly Behavior is a compelling and cleverly plotted story that at points reads like a fast-paced action thriller while also tackling many sensitive issues. Dee Sullivan has created a rich array of vivid characters that would translate well to either the big or small screen.