The great mystery at the core of Nichelle Tramble Spellman’s Truth Be Told is whether or not Warren Cave killed Chuck Buhrman, or if he was set up by someone maybe his own father, or a member of the Buhrman family, perhaps? Viewers interested in speeding ahead of Poppy may find answers in Kathleen Barber’s novel Are You Sleeping, the source material for Truth Be Told. While Truth Be Told may ultimately diverge from Are You Sleeping (and it already has in key ways), this post goes over the ending of Are You Sleeping, and so may contain major spoilers regardless. You have been warned!
Truth Be Told focuses on Octavia Spencer’s Poppy Scoville-Parnell, a dogged journalist-turned-podcaster who feels guilty that her newspaper column about the Chuck Buhrman murder 19 years ago may have wrongly put Aaron Paul’s Warren in jail. Her hunt for the truth leads her to clash with Warren and Owen Cave, the Burhman women, and even Poppy’s own Scoville family members (who are none too happy that she’s trying to free a man who’s now a member of the Aryan Brotherhood).
It’s an intriguing set-up that interweaves three families together, but it’s also one that’s pretty different from the book.
In Are You Sleeping, Warren is still accused of killing Chuck, and his fate is still sealed by Lanie Burhman, who claimed she saw Warren leaving the house right after the murder. The point-of-view of the story is different though: Josie Burhman (Lanie’s twin sister) is the main protagonist of the book, and she learns about Poppy’s podcast because she overhears some people talking about the “Chuck Buhrman murder thing” on the train. You never actually meet Warren in Are You Sleeping, and he only appears in audio recordings on Poppy’s podcast. (Poppy, meanwhile, is a side character, described as a “thin strawberry blond” with a “predatory, lipsticked smile.” She’s a true crime blogger who becomes interested in the case after her mom befriends Warren’s mom at a gardening conference.)
Are You Sleeping never shows you what Warren’s life is like in jail or who he is as a man forced to grow up behind bars either, something Truth Be Told is invested in exploring. Instead the book focuses on how Josie and Lanie’s world begins to unravel as a result of Poppy digging deeper and deeper into their past. Eventually it becomes clear that Warren is not guilty, and Lanie in fact lied about seeing him. Then in the last chapter, Poppy uncovers a note written in the margins of Josie’s mom’s copy of Anna Karenina, which reveals the shocking culprit of who killed Chuck.
Darling girls, there are so many things I want to say to you, but I dont have the words to say them all,” the note, written by Josie’s mom Erin, reads. “Your father made mistakes, but they werent fatal mistakes, and I shouldnt have treated them as such. I thought my unhappiness was all his fault, but that was only partially true. Am I being oblique? Im sorry. I killed your father.”
It’s revealed that Erin was furious about Chuck cheating on her with Warren’s mom, and that Lanie actually saw Erin standing above Chuck’s body after the murder, but she was so traumatized she convinced herself it was Warren. This blunt admission blows the case wide open, and the book ends with Poppy’s podcast confirming that Lanie recanted her testimony against Warren. In the final pages, Warren’s mom tells Poppy that while the “petty, vindictive part” of her wants to see Lanie suffer, they’re “choosing to take the high road” and focus on “the excitement of his upcoming release.”
It’s not clear yet how closely the show will follow the book, as there’s quite a few new characters and plot lines that have been added in. Both mediums ultimately tell interesting stories about our true crime obsession though, and explores the concerns of how that helps or even hinders the people involved.
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