Monday, December 9, 2013

Review: Practice to Deceive (Audio)

Summary: With more than 50 million copies of her thirty-four books in print, from The Stranger Beside Me, her chilling personal account of knowing Ted Bundy, to fourteen hardcover books— including Small Sacrifices; Green River, Running Red; and Too Late to Say Goodbye—and sixteen collections in her #1 bestselling Crime Files series, Ann Rule is without a doubt “America’s best true-crime writer” (Kirkus Reviews). In Practice to Deceive, her first book-length investigative chronicle since In the Still of the Night, Rule unravels a shattering case of Christmastime murder off the coast of Washington State—presented with the clarity, authority, and emotional depth that Rule’s readers expect. It’s a case with enough drama, greed, sex, and scandal to be called “The Real Housewives of Whidbey Island,” but this was not reality television. This was murder: pure, cruel, ugly, and senseless. And someone had to pay the price.

Nestled in Puget Sound, Whidbey Island is a gem of the Pacific Northwest; accessible only by ferry and the soaring Deception Pass Bridge, it is known for its artistic communities and stunning natural beauty. Life there is low-key, insular, and the island’s year-round residents tend to know one another’s business. But when the blooddrenched body of Russel Douglas was discovered the day after Christmas in his SUV in a hidden driveway near Whidbey’s most exclusive mansions, the whole island was shocked. A single bullet between his eyes was the cause of death, but no one could imagine who among them could plot such a devious, cold-blooded crime. At first, police suspected suicide, tragically common at the height of the holiday season. But when they found no gun in or near the SUV, Russel’s manner of death became homicide. Like a cast of characters from a classic mystery novel, a host of Whidbey residents fell under suspicion.

Brenna Douglas was Russel’s estranged and soon-to-be-ex wife, who allowed him to come home for a Christmas visit with their children. The couple owned the popular Just B’s salon. Brenna’s good friend Peggy Sue Thomas worked there, and Brenna complained often to her that Russel was physically and emotionally abusive. Peggy Sue’s own life has been one of extremes. Married three times, hers is a rags-to-riches-and-back-again tale in which she’s played many roles: aircraft mechanic, basketball coach, the “drop-dead gorgeous” beauty queen as a former Ms. Washington, Las Vegas limousine driver, million-dollar horse breeder, wealthy divorcĂ©e. But in 2003, her love affair with married guitarist Jim Huden led the two Whidbey Island natives to pursue their ultimate dreams of wealth and privilege—even at the expense of human life.

Unravel the tangled web woven by Russel Douglas’s murder in Practice to Deceive, the newest heart pounding true-crime tour de force from Ann Rule. -- Simon & Schuster Audio

I swear I've been reading books by Ann Rule for my entire adult life, and I've always been fascinated how real life is stranger than fiction. Ms. Rule certainly found her success as a true crime author with 34 books to her credit and over 50 million copies sold. I still remember reading THE STRANGER BESIDE ME when I was a student at Penn State and not being able to sleep because the story of Ted Bundy was so incredibly disturbing!

Ms. Rule's latest book is PRACTICE TO DECEIVE. It begins on Whidbey Island, just off the coast of Washington, during the holiday season of 2003 when Russel Douglas is brutally murdered. After suicide is ruled out, the police are at a loss as to who would want Douglas dead. They begin a long and detailed investigation into his death with his wife and her friends as possible suspects.

Surprisingly enough, it's Douglas' wife landlord Peggy Sue Thomas and her ex-husband Jim Huden that appear to be guilty. Both suspects have colored pasts, but nothing to make them seem like murderers. While police are confident that the two are, in fact, guilty of the murder, they still wonder about the motive. Could these two murder an "innocent" man just for the possibility of financial gain?

I honestly don't know whether my tastes have changed in the 20+ years that I've been reading true crime, or if PRACTICE TO DECEIVE just wasn't up to what I've come to expect from an Ann Rule book. While I did find aspects of this story to be interesting, I just wasn't truly caught up in it. And honestly, I'm not sure that the story was intriguing enough to merit an entire book. Granted the idea that two people who really didn't know Douglas would murder him in the way they did for a relatively small chance of financial gain is mind-boggling.

However, I felt as if something was missing from the story. As I reflect back on it, I think I had a few issues with the book. One of my problems was in how the story ended. It was very anti-climatic for me. Of course, that can't be helped because it is a true story, and I do think Ms. Rule was similarly disappointed, but I just felt as if the story was building for a really great trial and then... nothing!

Another issue I had with the story was the amount of background information that Ms. Rule included in the story. Naturally, there really weren't any likable characters (heck -- they were murderers), but I really felt as if she spent way too much time on the background of the characters and other tangents unrelated to the crime itself. Although it was kind of interesting in a twisted way, a big chuck of the story was spent on the history of Thomas' father and his first wife. In addition, I felt as if there were a lot of details about Thomas and Huden's past -- almost more than the actual crime and investigation. I could be wrong about this because I did listen to the audiobook version and I don't have the same "feel" as I do when I read the text, but that was my general impression.

Having voiced my concerns with PRACTICE TO DECEIVE, I still want to share that it was an interesting story and I think it was a worthwhile read. What I'm saying is that the story just didn't pack the same punch as other Ann Rule books have for me. However, there were elements of this book that did remind me of her other stories. She still did a good job explaining the crime, the investigation, and the trial. In addition, she made the characters (and especially the victim) very real to the reader.

As I mentioned earlier, I listened to the audio book of PRACTICE TO DECEIVE. It was read by Anne Twomey and I thought she did a fine job. The book was written in Ms. Rule's voice, and I could imagine Ms. Twomey as her the entire time I listened. It wasn't a particularly challenging narration job since there weren't a lot of characters or even different dialects, but I do think she was a good choice for the reader.

Overall, PRACTICE TO DECEIVE is an interesting look at a horrific crime and the unique cast of characters who were involved. Recommended to fans of true crime books.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this audiobook.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read. Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

I felt the same way after I listened to this. I wondered why Rule thought the story merited an entire book. There really was no conclusion so the book felt incomplete to me.

Beth F said...

Oh shoot! I'm sorry this one just didn't work. Here's hoping her next one is up to her usual standards