MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW – DECEMBER 2021
REVIEWED BY DIANE DONOVAN
What Seems True is crime writing fiction at its best, mingling social and political commentary with a murder mystery centered in Texas, where black supervisor Billy Graham, who works at a refinery, is found dead in an abandoned drive-in theater.
Refinery attorney Dan Esperson never expected a murder investigation to be part of his routine company consultations, but as he’s drawn into a probe that fingers company employees as the perps, his involvement takes a personal turn as he becomes a target.
Perhaps one reason why What Seems True feels so realistic is that it’s based on a real-world event that took place in 1979. Another reason is because of the way James Garrison crafts his fictionalized story, filling it with first-person reflections that incorporate both a sense of place and the times: “This being the South in the waning days of Jimmy Carter and the Klan still holding sway in this neck of the woods, a lot of people were interested in how and why the refinery’s first black supervisor had met his end. And who killed him.”
An indictment for murder leaves Dan shaking his head and wondering about the truth as readers embark on a survey that embraces hearings, truths, lies, and a forbidden romance that looms to complicate matters even further.
Garrison does an excellent job of juxtaposing all these interests in a way that supports the rising tension of the story, adding social and political observations to strengthen the events that unfold.
Insights about legal and political process are provided in the course of an engrossing exploration that incorporates realistic scenarios and questions: “These questions are highly improper,” I said as calmly as I could, but I was shaking. “They have no bearing on this tape.” I tapped the cassette on the table. “Or on this arbitration case. I object to Mr. Landry using this red herring to confuse the issues and divert attention from what’s really at issue here.”
Fans of noir detective stories that embrace legal proceedings and social issues will find that What Seems True questions many attitudes, moral and ethical standards, and motivations.
The touch of philosophical inspection (which appears at various times) cements the story and lends an introspective eye to detail that keeps it a winning proposition for readers who like more than a whodunit scenario alone: “‘The Law’ was just a thin patina of regulation over the instinctive hard core of human nature. A frail web holding together the larger society, a porous sponge buffering individuals and families and cliques struggling against each other.”
These vivid inspections make for a story that should be on the shelves of any Texas mystery collection, certainly—but also on the radars of holdings interested in broader portraits of social and ethical concerns. What Seems True