Truth, Lies and Second Dates
Contemporary romance seems a limited categorization for this comedic, murderous, and refreshingly fresh novel.
Captain Ava Capp is captaining a routine commercial flight to her native Minnesota, when she runs into Dennis, the twin brother of her high school best friend, Danielle, who died in an unsolved murder ten years before. Ava agrees to use her layover to attend Danielle’s memorial service and afterwards, drinks with Denis leads to her becoming the custodian of his drunk behind. While trying to get him back to the hotel, she’s assisted by Tom Baker, local medical examiner. Ava and Tom dine. They kiss. Then the morning after – the memorial, not sex – Ava finds the funeral home splattered in ashes spelling out “WRONG”. When Ava is grounded due to a botched drug test by her airline, the stars align for her and Tom to solve – or, more honestly, ponder – the multiple mysteries.
Ava is an alpha heroine, solitary, a touch brash, and an unapologetic leader. Tom is bald, Harvard Med School intelligent, neurodiverse (the book never gets more specific than “on the spectrum”), a virgin, and a demisexual (as Tom describes it, “I’m only aroused by someone I have an emotional connection with”).We get the bald and intelligent info fairly early on, but the rest of it comes more slowly. Though the story is told in third-person POV, Tom’s perspective plays second fiddle to Ava’s, and is only selectively revealing. Tom himself doesn’t even appear until about seventeen percent of the way through the book. I wish that Davidson hadn’t kept so much of Tom a mystery for so long, because if she’d revealed more to the reader earlier, some aspects of the story would have been understandable instead of frustrating for much of the book. For example, I was a little disappointed at the lack of heat, until I learned that Tom was demisexual. Then the low-key chemistry made total sense – it wouldn’t have been true to his character for him to fall in insta-love or get insta-wood for Ava. (And the book does heat up to a perfectly respectable level at the end.)
The writing style is a real winner. The characters make a reference in the book to Aaron Sorkin (creator of the TV show The West Wing) and the book’s narrative and character voices have a delightful, brisk, walked-in-on-the-middle-of-a-scene liveliness to them that, while not as flabbergastingly witty as Sorkin, ensures that just about every paragraph is fun. The chapters are less short than mini (we’re talking two electronic pages depending on your font size).
Admittedly, Davidson’s style takes some adjusting to. She peppers her story with parenthetical and italicized asides, and, bizarrely, endnotes. The endnotes would tax anyone’s patience. Take for example: “*MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority), the city’s subway system, is from personal experience, pretty great.” Davidson also includes an Author’s Note at the beginning explaining her intent for the book: an homage to romance and horror tropes. In my experience, getting authorsplained at the start of a book almost always bodes ill for the story quality. However, Davidson makes even the note (and her multi-page trope list at the end) acceptable because she does what she intended to do and she does it well. For someone writing an homage, she’s written something that has a pleasantly unfamiliar feeling to it.
Davidson handles the mystery fairly well. Unlike a number of romantic mysteries I’ve encountered recently, which were as scary as a well-lit closet, this mystery does have teeth. That said, as I mentioned earlier, Ava and Tom don’t actively solve it. And when the story jets (literally) off to Boston to serve secondary plot points such as Ava’s quality time with Tom’s family, everything slows down and the story loses a bit of its twinkle.
Ultimately, Truth, Lies, and Second Dates, is a strange book, released, strangely, in the holiday season, of a strange year. I enjoyed it nonetheless, and, given fair warning about some of the book’s personality quirks, I think most readers will too.