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BOOKS: Murder, mystery and a comic duo's breakup
Don O'Briant - Staff
Sunday, July 20, 2003

FICTION

Where the Truth Lies. By Rupert Holmes. Random House. $24.95. 388 pages.

The verdict: A funny, sexy , suspenseful romp through show biz in the '70s.

Mention Rupert Holmes' name at a party and you get nothing but blank stares. If you say he's the guy who wrote and sang "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)," everyone instantly remembers the 1979 tune, if not the author.

And that has been Holmes' problem throughout his career. Most people know the work --- he won three Tonys for "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," an Edgar for his play "Accomplice" and an Emmy for the TV series "Remember WENN" --- but not the man.

That may change somewhat with his debut novel, "Where the Truth Lies." Director Atom Egoyan ("The Sweet Hereafter") is already working on the film version of Holmes' entertaining murder mystery about a young journalist who is writing a book about a famous comedy team of the 1950s and '60s: Lanny Morris is the goofy one and Vince Collins is the dark, handsome crooner. And any resemblance to Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin is purely intentional.

Set in the 1970s, the story follows K. O'Connor as she attempts to piece together the lives of the comedy team and the reason for its sudden breakup. Fictional characters collide with real showbiz people as Holmes deftly re-creates the smoky, seductive mood of the disco decade. His breezy, witty prose perfectly captures an era when style meant more than substance, airlines served gourmet in-flight meals, and charity telethons were the only reality shows on TV:

In past years, it had turned out that our very best ratings came in the last hours of the polio telethon. It was the same thing that brings people to sports car races. In this case, Vince and I were the sports cars, and the audience tuned in hoping one of us would crash.

As O'Connor digs deeper into the relationship between the celebrity couple, she uncovers a secret that Morris and Collins would rather remain buried: Did the duo's breakup have anything to do with a young woman found dead in their room in a mob-owned New Jersey casino following one of their telethons?

Most of the novel is as delectable as a meal in first class and as exhilarating as O'Connor's wild ride with Vince Collins through Disneyland. Only at the end, when Holmes sets up a scene between O'Connor and the killer to explain the murder, does the plot take a wrong turn. But that's a minor quibble. O'Connor's many adventures and her steamy encounter with the theme park's Alice in Wonderland are well worth the price of admission.

Don O'Briant, author of "Backroad Buffets & Country Cafes: A Southern Guide to Meat-and-Threes & Down-Home Dining," is a features writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


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