Initially the idea that publicity companies were sending me free books in return for reviews on this site was really cool. I like books! I have thousands of them, and I read about a hundred of them a year! But the weird thing about that is that despite the fact that I read more than almost everyone (and if you read more than me, awesome, that just means that so do you, not that I’m not accurately describing myself) the stuff that I want to read is actually fairly well-defined. I’m good at picking out stuff I’ll like, which is why my average star rating on Goodreads is so high– it’s not because I have low standards for what makes a good book, it’s that there are so many goddamn books out there that anything likely to be a three-star or less simply never gets picked up.
Unless, of course, it gets mailed to me, and unfortunately with Michael McAuliffe’s No Truth Left to Tell, they’ve now officially sent me the first Free Book If You Review It that I really don’t feel like I have any choice but to pan. This book needed one more hard pass by an editor and probably another entire full draft; it has some massive structural issues and in a lot of ways is telling the wrong story even before you get to things like dialogue and character, and those aren’t great either.
The plot is pretty straightforward even after all that: there are a series of cross burnings over the course of a single night in Lynwood, Louisiana. The first 2/3 of the book follows a multitude of characters– this book employs Game of Thrones-style rotating third person POV characters– as the ringleader of the crimes, but none of the other perpetrators, is caught and sentenced to jail. Then one of the investigators finds out that the Grand Wizard’s confession, while true, was more than a little bit illegal, seeing as how the cop who pulled him over handcuffed him to a chair and let some local gangbangers scare the daylights out of him beforehand. And the last third of the book, including a literal recitation of the title, is one long moral dilemma as everybody fights over whether they should reveal what they know, and they decide to, so the conviction is vacated, and then the guy tries to kill the lead investigator but fails and kills someone else instead and gets run over by the cops after the shooting, and I guess that’s a happy ending, because he’s dead? Sure.
The book wants you to believe the last third, the moral “do I do the Right Thing, and what is the Right Thing” bit is the story– and it is, as the actual investigation and arrest and trial is somehow both 2/3 of the book and perfunctory and rather boring– but it doesn’t get around to starting to talk about it until that 2/3 mark. The pacing is hugely off throughout; the book feels done once the trial is over (except they didn’t catch most of the people responsible) and then there’s this whole other thing at the back. And because the book employs rotating POVs of characters who are, generally, far too similar to one another, it’s not even like you can really feel anyone’s particular journey through the book. Somebody should have caught this and forced a page-one rewrite to focus on the actual story, with one protagonist and not half a dozen, and no one did, and as a result the whole book is a mess.
Other gripes: in general the talk in this book does not resemble human talk, and this is especially true whenever a black person is speaking; Michael McAuliffe appears to have taken his cues on how black people in Louisiana and Washington D.C. talk from repeated views of Airplane! and perhaps a few blues bars scenes from 1980s-era John Hughes movies. Most annoying is his weird affectation for using ‘n at the end of words that end in -ing, but only when black people are speaking, so a black person isn’t “walking”, he’s “walk’n.” Now, I got an ARC, so it’s possible an editor will have caught this and fixed it by final release, but it happened consistently enough that McAuliffe is clearly doing it on purpose, and it’s weird.
I dunno; at some point there are diminishing returns to shitting on a book that is, after all, a debut; I could complain in more detail if I wanted to but there’s no money in it so I’m going to just drop it here. I didn’t hate the book, but it’s a mess and it’s otherwise very very forgettable. I two-starred it on GR because I reserve one-star reviews for books I genuinely loathed; I would never have finished this had it not been sent to me for a review. Avoid, but not, like, angrily.