ARC Review: What Seems True

In 1980 Billy Graham, the first black supervisor at a Texas refinery, is found murdered behind an abandoned drive-in theater. Dan Esperson, corporate lawyer for the refinery, is pulled into the investigation of the murder as suspicion falls on a refinery worker and his wife, the HR administrative assistant.

What Seems True has a lot going for it. Author James Garrison paints a vivid and realistic picture of the early 1980s in the "Golden Triangle" of Texas oil refineries. The rich sense of place helps to ground his characters, who are well drawn, and some of whose actions highlight the racism and misogyny of the times. The story is based on a actual unsolved murder, and Garrison tells us in the afterward that he wanted to explore the characters and motivations that would lead to such a murder.

Garrison himself was a corporate lawyer for many years before taking up writing, so it makes sense that his book is told from the perspective of a corporate lawyer. Like all the other characters in the book Esperson is well developed. He gets too close to the action in his investigation and puts himself at risk.

This book succeeds as a character study with a touch of noir and a strong sense of place. It's filled with interesting characters - the aging and philosophical Texas Ranger, the WWII veteran plant manager, the racist head of operations, the CYA personnel manager at the refinery, the career minded no nonsense female Manager of Industrial Relations at corporate, and the narrator, a lawyer with a troubled marriage. These are all in addition to the couple at the center of the murder story - she with the good looks, and he with explosive jealousy and a troubled past. 

Garrison throws all these characters into the midst of a drawn out strike at the refinery, with the murder investigation taking place as the strike unfolds. As his story develops it raises a number of troubling topics that are still relevant to our American lives today, and so beyond being an enjoyable read it gives you quite a bit to think about. 

What the book is not is a thriller or a true crime, or even a detective story. If you are looking for a book where the murder is committed, the suspects are trotted out and examined, and then the hero of the story wraps everything up with a tidy bow at the end, you'll be disappointed. 

But if you take it for what it is - a novelistic examination of character and motivation with a murder in the mix, I think you'll agree with me Garrison's What Seems True is well worth the read. I give the book Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐.

NOTE: I received an advanced reviewer's copy of this book through LibraryThing and Touchstone Press in exchange for a fair and honest review. The paperback and ebook editions were available earlier this month -  September 18, 2020.

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