The Whole Truth
Whether real like Ted Bundy, or imagined like Hannibal Lecter, few killers of our time are in the same league as Raymond Raintree. And as he stands flanked by lawyers in a Florida courtroom, waiting to be convicted for the murder of Natalie Mae McCullen, Marie Lightfoot is taking it all in. A small, gutsy blonde renowned for her true-crime bestsellers, Marie knows the graphic and disturbing case will make her best book yet—because Raintree’s shocking crime, vile beyond imagining, is also impossible to turn away from. But there is something about the case—and Raintree’s involvement—that bothers her.
No one knows where Raintree, a man as slight and immature as a preteen boy, took Natalie after he abducted her. No one knows how Natalie—bright, independent, and with no fear of the dark—could be lured into a stranger’s boat on a lonely waterway. And only one witness saw a man who may have been Raintree motoring along in a water taxi on the night Natalie disappeared.
Even if the police can’t provide answers, Marie intends to leave no loose ends. Starting with a prison meeting with Raintree, the steely-nerved writer follows a twisted path that leads to Natalie’s parents, to a coincidence that doesn’t quite gel, and to a place she has resisted all her life: the dark recesses of her own soul, where she hides the secrets of her own lost past.
When Raymond escapes, Marie—a curious contradiction of celebrity author and introspective loner—becomes a sitting duck for a killer who just might be smart enough to outwit her. And evil enough to take her to hell before she dies.
With The Whole Truth, Nancy Pickard taps neatly into our national fascination with true crime in a daring novel that seems structurally and philosophically at odds with the conventional mystery story. We know, apparently, “who did it”—as do most true crime readers. People who pick up Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me, for example, are usually aware that Ted Bundy was the man responsible for the murders she chronicles. We come to those texts after the fact, as it were; we search not for perpetrator, but for motivation, for explanation. How could these things have happened? What sort of monsters must such criminals be? Pickard’s is just such an exploration: it opens with the conviction of one Raymond Raintree for the murder of six-year-old Natalie McCullen, a crime that has shocked South Florida. Marie Lightfoot is in attendance, waiting for the words that will bring to an end The Little Mermaid, the book she is writing about the McCullen case.
However, though it appears her conclusion is written, Marie is deeply worried about the rest of her book: “[Raintree] has no past that anybody, including me, has been able to find. This is not good news for a true crime writer with a book due on her editor’s desk in two weeks.” But when Ray escapes just after the verdict is read, Marie must accelerate her quest for Ray’s actual and emotional origins. Her search has repercussions that lie far beyond the successful completion of her book; she alone can prevent Ray from killing again. Her questions, and their answers, will take her from Florida to the American heartland, from sunshine and palm trees to an unspeakable history of abduction and abuse.
In an intriguing and effective narrative device, Pickard alternates chapters of her “own” text with chapters from The Little Mermaid. This structural twinning hints at the plurality of experience, of the conflicting stories that we create to situate ourselves and others; in realizing that writers must sift through the truth, or truths, to create a coherent narrative, the reader must also sift through the sometimes dovetailing, sometimes elliptical relationship between Pickard’s and Lightfoot’s stories. The strategy is not wholly successful; at times Pickard introduces elements that lead nowhere, such as Marie’s uneasy acceptance of her own parents’ disappearance years before; at other times, an apparent impulse to accelerate the action serves only to accentuate gaping holes in the plot. But these are minor complaints; Pickard’s novel is, in its quiet fashion, an appealing novelty at the intersection of truth and fiction. —Kelly Flynn