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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Two Truths and A Lie

A Murder, a Private Investigator, and Her Search for Justice

Narrator: Cassandra Campbell

ISBN: 0812998669

Publisher: Random House

Publication Date: 02/02/2021

Format: Audio

My Rating: 4 Stars

In this powerful memoir, a journalist turned private investigator revisits the case that has haunted her for decades, asking profound questions about grief, complicity, and justice.

“Beautifully written.”—Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Blood in the Water

In 1990, Ellen McGarrahan was a young reporter for the Miami Herald when she covered the execution of Jesse Tafero, a man convicted of murdering two police officers. When it later emerged that Tafero may have been innocent, McGarrahan was appalled by her unquestioning acceptance of the state’s version of events. The revelation propelled her into a new career as a private investigator.

Decades later, McGarrahan finally decides to find out the truth of what really happened in Florida. Her investigation plunges her back into the Miami of the 1960s and 1970s, a dangerous world of nightclubs, speed boats, and cartels, all awash in violence. She combs through stacks of court files and interviews everyone involved in the case. But even as McGarrahan circles closer to the truth, the story of guilt and innocence becomes more complex, and she gradually discovers that she hasn’t been alone in her need for closure. Because whenever a human life is forcibly taken—by bullet, or by electric chair—the reckoning is long and difficult for all.

A fascinating glimpse into the mind of a private investigator, Two Truths and a Lie is ultimately a deeply personal exploration of one woman’s quest to find answers in a chaotic world.



“[A] vivid re-examination of a puzzling double murder . . . Journalist and private investigator McGarrahan’s debut is an engrossing, authoritative fusion of true crime and memoir….a An accomplished, unsettling look at a confounding crime and larger issues of memory, culpability, and punishment.”—Kirkus (starred review)

“In these beautifully written pages, the decades-long quest of journalist–turned–private detective Ellen McGarrahan to come to terms with an unusually cruel death-row execution that she witnessed early in her career becomes both page-turning whodunit and sobering assessment of the American justice system. We walk, at times nervously, in McGarrahan’s footsteps as she reinvestigates the brutal murder that led to that ugly execution, and we find ourselves weeping with her when it becomes clear that there is only one thing of which we can be certain: In our country, meting out punishment is far easier than seeking, finding, and telling the truth.”

—Heather Ann Thompson, author of Blood in the Water

“Two Truths and a Lie is a masterpiece—more honest than In Cold Blood and more profound than The Executioner’s Song. This riveting memoir of a private investigator’s search for the buried truth about a shocking tragedy is a brilliant addition to the literature of crime and punishment.”

—David Von Drehle, New York Times bestselling author of Triangle

“Journalist-turned-PI McGarrahan brings readers along on her affecting quest to discover the truth about who killed two law enforcement officers in 1976 Florida. . . . McGarrahan’s blend of detective work and insights into the criminal justice system makes this must reading for fans of Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Two Truths and a Lie is both mesmerizing page-turner and haunting meditation on various shades of guilt. Ellen McGarrahan is an investigator with the storytelling chops of a novelist, and her tour de force goes well beyond traditional true crime. As the best stories do, Two Truths and a Lie leads us through a fascinating case at breakneck speed, until we find ourselves confronting the elusive nature of truth itself.” —Claudia Rowe, author of The Spider and the Fly

“My heart was in my throat through each page of this captivating memoir of a private investigator’s search for truth, justice, and resolution. A meticulous writer, McGarrahan queries not only the facts of the double murder and its aftermath—including the execution of a possibly innocent man—but also the nature of memory and investigation itself: a form of time travel. She chases her story across the globe, drawing near to a cast of fascinating and dangerous characters along the way. All important stories involve some risk, and McGarrahan laid her life on the line for this one. The pages bleed.” —Sarah Gerard, author of Sunshine State

“In this riveting book, Ellen McGarrahan re-examines a crime that has haunted her for thirty years. Her life was forever changed after she witnessed the electric-chair execution of a man held responsible for two murders—an execution that went horribly wrong. In Two Truths and a Lie, McGarrahan, then a journalist and now a private investigator, sets out to unravel the details of this complicated case and discover if the right person was put to death or if her reporting contributed to a terrible miscarriage of justice. McGarrahan’s eagle eye and relentless drive to learn the truth—whatever it may be—carry us with her on this powerful and fascinating journey.” —Eilene Zimmerman, author of Smacked


About the Author

Photo: © Alan Williams

Ellen McGarrahan worked for a decade as an investigative reporter at newspapers in New York City, Miami, and San Francisco before accidentally finding her calling as a private detective. Two Truths and a Lie is her first book. Read More







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