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Literature / The Telling Error

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The Telling Error is the ninth instalment of the Spilling Series by Sophie Hannah.

All she wanted to do was take her son's forgotten sports kit to school.

So why does Nicki Clements drive past the home of controversial newspaper columnist Damon Blundy eight times in one day? Blundy has been murdered, and the words 'HE IS NO LESS DEAD' daubed on his wall - in red paint, not blood. And, though Blundy was killed with a knife, he was not stabbed. Why?


Nicki, called in for questioning, doesn't have any of the answers police are looking for. Nor can she tell them the truth, because although she is not guilty of murder, she is far from innocent. And the words on the wall are disturbingly familiar to her, if only she could remember where she has heard them before...

Contains the following tropes:

  • Alone with the Psycho: In the book's climax, Nicki ends up alone in a hotel room with Reuben, having figured out he is both King Edward and Gavin.
  • Big Sister Instinct: In a weird way. Nicki genuinely loves Liam, but she finds it very difficult to be around him because of his betrayal of her when they were children. She tells Reuben that she arranges it so she doesn't have to acknowledge Liam as an adult because it's only as viewing him as her innocent baby brother that she can cope.
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  • Chekhov's Gun: "HE IS NO LESS DEAD" is a massive hint to the killer's motives.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The guy Nicki notices loitering around the school gates whom she nicknames "Flash Dad".
  • Child Hater: Damon Blundy is very upfront about disliking children, which makes it awfully suspicious that he knows the story The Gruffalo...
  • Consummate Liar: Nicki lies constantly. It's actually a plot point that she feels compelled to lie and make life difficult for herself. Simon comments that her pathological lying is something of a subconscious exercise in masochism, that Nicki is terrified of being caught in her lies but also seeks to be punished for them.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Turns out it was Jane who killed Damon Blundy, thinking it was what Reuben wanted. Simon is extremely frustrated that he didn't even think to suspect her, but Charlie refutes this by pointing out it was on Reuben's orders.
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  • Drives Like Crazy: At one point, in order to smash her wing-mirror off her car to support a lie she told the police, Nicki deliberately scrapes her car against a metal fence.
  • Driven to Suicide: Bryn Gilligan.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Damon Blundy starts calling Paula Riddiough "Paula Privilege", which sticks. It was originally "Saint Paula of Privilege".
  • Extreme Doormat: Jane, Reuben's wife, does pretty much anything he wants her to do, and seems frustrated that he doesn't care enough to ask her to.
  • Foreshadowing: Reuben Tasker obsessing over the view from his window.
    • Damon Blundy's computer password.
  • Freudian Excuse: Nicki's lying stems from a childhood of emotional and verbal abuse from an exceedingly controlling, domineering father and an enabling mother, who criticised everything she did no matter what it was. Simon notes that Nicki's self-esteem is so abysmal that she obeys the commands of a total stranger because she desperately needs the validation.
  • Minor Flaw, Major Breakup: Damon Blundy was married twice before Hannah, to beautiful, successful women whom he divorced for reasons such as snoring or chipped nailpolish. This is a major reason why Hannah can't understand why Damon was so caring and devoted to a plain, ordinary woman like her.
    • Paula Riddiough eventually admits to Simon her husband once refused to pick her up from the train station, even though he'd been happy to do that plenty of times before. She took this to mean he doesn't love her as much as he did when they got married and begins looking for someone new.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Between Damon Blundy and Paula Riddiough.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Damon Blundy with a lot of people he writes articles about, but special mention goes to Keiran Holland.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Melissa and Nicki used to be best friends until Melissa decided to start dating Liam and they have never recovered from it. Charlie notes that the similarity between Melissa and Olivia makes her automatically hostile towards Melissa.

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