Fun bit of trivia: Ann Rule’s favorite book is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
Here’s my confession: Every time Ann Rule comes out with a new true-crime book, I read it the same day it arrives.
It is, I expect, the same kind of schadenfreude that makes us suckers for celebrity coverage in which beautiful rich people stuff themselves with drugs, starve themselves and shame their spouses. Who doesn’t worry that they have a little ferocious malice just waiting to bubble to the surface? Or, conversely, who doesn’t fret that they’re about to be offed by the sociopath sitting next to them on the couch?
As readers, we are comforted in knowing that the chamber of horrors lurks in the sunniest of neighborhoods, among the prettiest of people. At least, we think, it ain’t that bad at our house.
Still, we worry that there but for a little luck go our own families, guns blazing, knives flashing, hired killers barging through the back door.
But even if I am a true-crime book sucker, according to Rule’s Web site, I am unlikely to harm a fly — only obsessively curious about what makes bad people bad. (This is true, by the way: Last week, I lifted a worm out of the way of the lawn mower. I project as much physical menace as Snuggle the fabric-softener bear and am regularly approached by people who assume that I am a teacher, store clerk or parking attendant. It’s only the way I write that makes people assume I have fangs.)
The thing that pulls you in about Rule’s books isn’t who did it; you know that before you crack the cover. The killers already are signed, sealed and imprisoned.
In many cases, Rule’s books aren’t even particularly revealing about the psychology of the person who did it: Diane Downs in Small Sacrifices, who killed one of her children and unsuccessfully tried to kill the two others, was stalking a married man who didn’t want kids. Ted Bundy was Rule’s late-night partner at a suicide crisis-counseling service before he became better known as one of America’s most prolific serial killers; he was executed in 1989 and became the subject for Rule’s book The Stranger Beside Me.
Texan Allen Blackthorne wasn’t pleased when his wife, Sheila Bellush, moved on to another husband and bore him quadruplets; Bellush even told a relative to contact Rule if anything happened to her. The result? The best-selling Every Breath You Take, in which Bellush is found stabbed to death in her kitchen.
Nope, what sets Rule apart is that there’s always one indelible image: The Bellush quadruplets crawling through their dead mother’s blood. Diane Downs screeching into the emergency room on May 19, 1983, claiming that her injured children had been shot by a stranger. The body of Anne Marie Fahey, the Delaware governor’s scheduling secretary, dumped at sea in 1996 by her jealous married lover in And Never Let Her Go: Thomas Capano: The Deadly Seducer. (A punctuation note: Rules loves her colons.)
In Too Late to Say Goodbye, Georgia dentist Barton Corbin kills his wife, Jennifer, and stages it to make it look like a suicide. One of the couple’s young sons finds his mom’s body.
As it turns out, Corbin had disposed of a dental school girlfriend 14 years earlier by staging another “suicide.” One thing you can say about most of the arrogant killers profiled by Rule: They don’t exactly have the most wide-ranging of toolboxes.
What’s particularly sad about Jennifer Corbin’s death is the Internet affair she had hoped would rescue her from her miserable marriage: She had begun an online relationship with a man she knew as Christopher.
There was no Christopher.
There was, however, an Anita.
Jenn Corbin found out only weeks before her death that the new life she had been hoping for was no more real than the facade of her happy marriage to Bart Corbin.
In Rule’s books, it’s the desperation of the victims that’s the saddest tale of all.