Claudia Bethune, with her multiple marriages and multiple wardrobe changes, tart tongue and wicked ways, is very much like a 1940s version of Alexis Carrington. Life has become a great amusement to her and people are her toys. She is planning a cocktail party to which she has invited several friends and business acquaintances and sent individual invitations stating that each person should try to come as "you are the only one I really want to see." Little do they know that these cocktails will be laced with a new drug she stole from her biochemist pal Dr. Roger Slater. The drug is a derivative of scopolamine with "truth serum" properties enhanced and its dangerous side effects removed. Claudia is eager to find out all the secrets her friends have been keeping from her.
The theme of truth and lies runs throughout the novel with the characters indulging in McCloy's love of allusion. Prior to their ever being aware of the truth drug they will ingest at the party we get quips and quotes like these:
Truth is always unpleasant and usually intolerable.Yet even the speakers of those quotes are vulnerable to the effects of the super dose of the drug Claudia tosses into the bottle of vermouth used to make the night's martinis. She, of course, does not partake of the drinks nor does Roger who spotted a missing tube of the test drug only minutes after Claudia left his lab. He warns everyone to stop drinking while everyone else warns Claudia that she'll pay for her cruel game. But by then it's too late. And it's too late for Claudia as well. Later that night she is found brutally strangled with her prized emerald and platinum necklace.
If I may be permitted to paraphrase Aaron Burr: Truth is whatever is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained.
The Deadly Truth is not only a high spirited melodrama of modern mind game playing it is one of the best examples of a fair play detective novel I've ever read. The clues are right there in front of you. Many of them stood out to me flagrantly and yet I was unable to put the pieces together. Why? Because McCloy has ingeniously led the reader down the garden path with a plethora of red herrings that seem to lead to one person when in fact all the flagrant clues most assuredly point to another. It was one of those rare instances of an ending that left me gasping and saying, "That's why that happened!" I'd love to point out some specific examples but that would ruin the enjoyment of joining me as yet another reader fooled by a master deceiver. With each new book I read by Helen McCloy I discover that she is indeed an artist of the detective novel.