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July 16, 2003 Volume 39 Issue 27

Where The Truth Lies Rupert Holmes
Where The Truth Lies (Buy It!)
(Random House)

K. O'Connor, the narrator of Rupert Holmes' giddily sordid show-biz mystery Where The Truth Lies, is an early-'70s personality reporter who writes dishy, incisive celebrity profiles. Her latest assignment revolves around suave, slightly over-the-hill crooner Vince Collins, whom she's interviewing for a book about his once-successful partnership with goofball comedian Lanny Morris, and their possible involvement in the killing of a Miami hotel employee during their 1959 polio telethon. Over the course of her research, O'Connor gains access to Morris' own in-the-works memoir, and for a time, Where The Truth Lies alternates between the harsh voice of a '50s Hollywood hipster and the self-infatuated tones of a post-counterculture "new journalist." Both styles can be abrasive, but they suit Holmes' purpose of recalling the places and sounds of two eras. As O'Connor relates her experience with relative novelties like Pong, Szechwan cuisine, and credit cards, she also serves as a tour guide through cultural landmarks that even nostalgists have largely forgotten. She describes first-class air travel that's worthy of the name (caviar and hand-carved meats included), and recalls when New York City was overrun with bizarre theme restaurants, like the underground drive-in movie theater she visits while on a quasi-date with Morris. Adhering to detective-fiction convention, the investigator projects equally onto the killer and the victim, and ultimately re-creates the conditions of the original murder, with herself as the target. Specifically, O'Connor's coquettish flirtations with both Collins and Morris—and what becomes a clear parallel between newsy exposés and blackmail—threatens to force the hand of the true villain. At the same time, her increasing attraction to her entertainer hosts makes her a stand-in for a public so enraptured by talent and charisma that even the most heinous sins are often forgiven. Holmes' own infatuation with the scaly underside of bygone pop iconography (fostered by his years as a hit-making singer-songwriter in the '70s) gives Where The Truth Lies an enthusiastic charge, as it becomes clear how much joy he takes in re-creating the world of his Martin & Lewis stand-ins, even as he's sneaking in some nuanced commentary about the impossibility of fame and honesty ever intersecting. Holmes lets some subplots dangle and wraps his story up a little too neatly, but his book becomes ridiculously pleasurable when he starts free-associating, as when he brings psychedelic drugs, Disneyland, and a steamy lesbian sexual encounter into collision. Rarely has the mood-altering, libido-stroking power of popular entertainment been displayed so adroitly. —Noel Murray

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