Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Degrees of Trust

By Hilary Davidson
“People like that can’t be trusted. If she was fighting with the man, she may be trying to get him into trouble.”

The offhand, dismissive tone of his comment hit me as hard as the words themselves. People like that? My sister had told me, many times, how people pretended not to see her when she was homeless. They don’t think a junkie deserves to share the same sidewalk as them, she’d said. I knew from experience that an addict could lie about anything to get a fix, but that didn’t mean they didn’t know what the truth was, or wouldn’t tell it in other circumstances.

Trust is often represented as an all-or-nothing proposition, as if your only options are to trust another person completely, or not at all. For me, and for my characters, there are levels of trust, some shallow and some with roots like ancient trees. It can get complicated sometimes, because an otherwise trustworthy person might have a blind spot that makes them unreliable on a certain subject (or about a particular person), while even the sketchiest of characters may be worthy of trust under certain circumstances.

Several reviewers have mentioned how Lily Moore is surrounded by untrustworthy characters (with the exception of her best friend, Jesse Robb) in THE NEXT ONE TO FALL. This isn't an inaccurate description — not by a long shot — but it intrigues me, because no one ever seems to think about how untrustworthy Lily must seem to the Peruvian characters in the book. Lily is, after all, insisting that a woman was murdered at Machu Picchu without the slightest shred of evidence to support her. The only thing Lily can tell the police is that the dying woman spoke to her, telling her that her boyfriend wanted rid of her. But the physical evidence at the scene doesn't match the dead woman's story, and Lily's left to do the job of reconciling the pieces that don't fit. To some of the Peruvians, Lily seems like another spoiled tourist, one who may be on drugs (given that the country gets some travelers with a keen interest in natural hallucinogens and other drugs, it's not an outlandish thing for them to think). There's a cultural divide, and an economic one, that makes trust almost impossible.

Because I write from Lily's point of view, it's easy for readers to trust her. After all, they saw her on the mountain with the dying woman, and they heard their conversation. But as I write, I'm conscious of other characters' points of view, and how Lily must appear in their eyes. And Lily, while she's honest with the reader about what she sees and hears and feels, isn't always correct in the conclusions she draws about people. (One of the joys of writing THE NEXT ONE TO FALL was exploring Lily's relationship with Felipe Vargas, a Peruvian cop; their mutual loathing turns into something much more interesting.)

Even Len Wolven, the man with a trail of dead and missing women behind him, is suspicious of Lily's motives for coming after him in THE NEXT ONE TO FALL. Neither he nor his wealthy family believe Lily is out for justice; they suspect that she's trying to extort money from them.

* * *

I'm on the road again, this time in Canada; check out the album of my launch party for THE NEXT ONE TO FALL, and the album for the book tour. Next up: Denver's Tattered Cover on March 23rd, Noir at the Bar Los Angeles on March 25th, Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego on March 26th, Mysteries to Die For in Thousand Oaks, CA, on March 28th, Left Coast Crime (March 29-April 1), Book Passage in San Francisco on April 2nd, and a Mystery Readers International Literary Salon on April 3rd. Check out my calendar for more events and conferences!


Joshua Corin said...

Have fun on your book tour!

Meredith Cole said...

Untrustworthy narrators are so intriguing, Hilary (but that's what makes them feel so human, in my opinion). It's so interesting that that your readers are inclined to trust Lily without question. But it makes sense since they're looking at the world through her eyes.

Hilary Davidson said...

Thanks for stopping by, Josh and Meredith!

I think Meredith's onto something when she mentions that untrustworthy narrators feel so human. It's very different from having a narrator deliberately mislead you (as in Agatha Christie's THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD). Narrators can misinterpret facts, and they bring their biases with them. In Lily's case, her biases are shaped by her own family history, and that gives her a sharp perceptiveness in some cases, but it also gives her certain blind spots. Who among us doesn't have that?

lil Gluckstern said...

One of the by products of our modern culture is distrust. Your characters-and a lot of other people-look for an ulterior motive. I trust your protagonist because I trust you to play fair with me, the reader. I think most of my favorite writers do play fair; then again, maybe not ;)

Gabi said...

I know Canada will be appreciating you as much as we do. You've made me think about how trustworthy I appear to others even when they may have no reason to do so. Addicts aren't the only ones with agendas.