Thursday, August 4, 2011

Truthseeker rings true

by C.E. Murphy
Del Rey, August 2010

Reviewed by Deirdre M. Murphy (no relation)

Truthseeker is a story about Lara Jansen, a very unlikely amateur sleuth—she hears a speaker’s truthfulness or falsehood in every utterance as music. How could I not root for her? I was quickly drawn into Lara’s regard for the truth—something that is, to her, a magical absolute, which is quite different from our world where “prove it” means simply, “convince me”. I shared her remembered distress over Santa Claus and other fairy tales, her frustration trying to communicate in a world where white lies are considered a social grace, and her joy in the few friends who believed in her talent and honored her with their truth. I understood her decision to hide in the sheltered world of “bespoke” clothing, making beauty in a world that too often is filled with ugliness and lies.

In addition to loving speculative fiction, I love a good mystery, especially one where an amateur sleuth wanders around talking to everyone, and you get to try to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s lying before the hero reveals the answer. I’m also a musician, and love the various chords, but especially the bittersweet minor sevenths, which grace my senses like dark chocolate.

I liked how the author portrays Lara’s social ineptness as well as her pedantry about words, both of which follow from her innate and powerful discomfort around everything not-true. I know what it’s like to be socially awkward because you see the world differently than others; to have much of other people’s humor just fall flat for you while they don’t even see the things that make you laugh. I can’t imagine how to overcome that without the insights gained from reading fiction. These aspects of her character made Lara very believable for me, and I sympathized with her from the first page.

As the story opens, Lara is using her talent to help her best friend, Kelly, buy a used car, though she insists she’s really along for the company—after all, used car salesmen always lie. We follow Lara and Kelly out of the car dealership and shortly they run into the local weatherman, David Kerwin, and his cameraman, Dickon. Flirting ensues, until the weatherman introduces himself, and the syllables of his name sound dissonant instead of ringing true.

Lara can’t help but react to the sour notes, and the man quickly admits his name is actually Daffyd ap Caerwyn, and asks her on a date. They forget to exchange contact information, but nonetheless, Daffyd arrives at her office to pick her up at closing time, and it’s not long after that he admits to her that he’s a Prince of the Seelie Court, exiled from his homeland until he can find a legendary Truthseeker to come through the portal to his world, Barrow-lands, with him and discover who murdered his brother.

Lara might have laughed at him, but there were no sour notes in his words. He believed what he was saying. He dropped his glamour briefly for her to see his true form. When he resumed it, his human-seeming visage jarred her vision just the way his lies jarred her hearing. Then he added one more detail to his outrageous—and true—story: His time was running out. He had to have a Truthseeker travel home with him in the next few days or be exiled from the Barrow-lands, his brother’s murder forever unsolved.

The rest of the book is an action-filled romp ; the death of a Prince has precipitated a war in the Barrow-lands. Lara arrives expecting to solve the murder and go quickly home, but she and Daffyd are attacked the moment they step through the portal. Even once she’s welcomed into the Seelie Court, the many true answers she gets to her questions shed no light on the mystery. There are twists and turns to her story, and she sees a lot more of the Barrow-lands than she’d planned to, but no mster how many people she talks with, figuring out the answer isn’t simple, and she is unable to name the culprit until the final, climactic battle.

I won this book in one of those “comment here and the author will draw a random number and send someone a copy of the book” online contests. I hadn’t planned on reviewing the book, since the author and I share a surname (though I’ve never met her unless you count occasional casual online contact between from our separate continents). But I really enjoyed this book, and wanted to share it with you. I am eagerly looking forward to the sequel, Wayfinder, which is expected out September 6th. I plan to start reading on a Friday, since I’m sure I won’t want to put it down.

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