`Truth-Teller`s Lie` unravels obsessive love

Last Updated: Sep 29, 2010, 13:00 PM IST

London: Sophie Hannah`s ‘The Truth-Teller`s Lie’ was originally published in Britain in 2007 as ‘Hurting Distance,’ a concept that permeates the novel, as neatly summed up by one character: "It`s the people we`re closest to who can hurt us the most. ... The people you love are within hurting distance, close range. Strangers aren`t."

One of the more disturbing stories about serial rape (and they`re all disturbing, so this means something), ‘The Truth-Teller`s Lie’ centres on Naomi Jenkins, a woman who had been raped by a stranger three years ago and never told a soul; not the police, not her best friend.

Now Naomi has another secret; for the past year she`s had a weekly tryst with her married lover, Robert Haworth. They meet in the same motel room at the same time every week, so when Robert fails to show up one night, Naomi is worried enough to go to the police.

When she feels as though the police aren`t taking her seriously, she ups the urgency by formally accusing Robert of the very crime she`s kept tightly under wraps.

It`s enough to make readers wonder about Naomi`s mental stability, her concern crossing over into a stalker`s obsession. Hannah underscores this by writing Naomi`s chapters as though Naomi is directly addressing Robert. The effect is unsettling, particularly as Naomi gets closer to discovering the truth about who attacked and repeatedly raped her.

And it`s to Hannah`s great credit that Naomi is able to tread the all-too-familiar "other woman" path without being completely victimized or wholly sympathetic. She has agency, yet her internal logic is completely flawed. She`s a perplexing, often problematic character, but entirely worth one`s investment.

This is the second psychological thriller featuring Detective Sergeant Charlie Zailer and Detective Constable Simon Waterhouse (the first is "Little Face," published in Britain in 2006), and continues their murky, unresolved personal relationship as it seeps into their investigation.

Zailer should be a familiar character to fans of literary and televised crime fiction: a female detective with a fair amount of professional power and a personal life in utter disarray, yet she doesn`t feel redundant or stale.

Other characters, like Zailer and Waterhouse`s boss, do tend toward caricature. The whole of the story, however, is so meticulously plotted, so dark and shocking, that a few one-dimensional characters don`t hurt it.

And dark this story certainly is, with graphic descriptions of sex crimes, unnerving plot twists and unflinching portrayals of morally foggy characters. Savvy readers may suss out the mystery before anyone in the book solves it, but this in no way detracts from the satisfying (and creepy) conclusion.

Bureau Report

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