Every Breath You Take - True Crime by Ann Rule

May 11, 2003 (Updated May 30, 2006)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Interesting story. Well researched and documented.

Cons:The story is told twice.

The Bottom Line: This is a solid true crime book, but some of the other Rule books are better.

It’s not often that someone speaks from the grave unless you count the TV show Crossing Over with soothsayer, John Edward. In Every Breath You Take by Ann Rule, Sheila Bellush who was murdered by her husband, Allen, and then “comes back” from the dead to share her story with the world. Sheila told her sister, Kerry Bladhorn: "If anything should happen to me, find Ann Rule and ask her to write my story." Kerry sent an email which found its way to Rule, and Sheila got her wish—a book of her life and death written by Rule, queen of the true crime genre.

True crime stories were typically written up as dry case studies for legal or law enforcement students and practitioners until Truman Capote published In Cold Blood and set the standard for mainstream books about violent criminals. If you’ve never read Capote’s book, then that’s a terrific true crime piece.

Though the conversational, story-oriented format made popular by Capote has been attractive to readers who enjoy non-fiction, most true crime books are rip-and-write with a focus on the highest profile cases like Jon Benet Ramsey or O.J. Simpson. The timely books in true crime are overwhelmingly dreadful in most cases, but Ann Rule is an exception.

Though Rule does lean toward the grotesque and favors physically attractive heroines murdered by handsome men with major character flaws, she provides the depth of coverage and excellent storytelling skills needed to provide a comprehensive inside look at the lives of brutal criminals as well as those they shatter along the way.

Every Breath You Take is the latest book published by Rule, and though it involves a voice from the dead requesting that the story be told, the story is typical Rule and seems to be a natural for her style and voice. Sheila was a gorgeous young woman who married the wrong man. Allen grew up poor, neglected and abused, and though he eventually made a fortune and “had it all” in material terms, he couldn’t let go of the woman who walked out on him and beat him in court every time she pushed for child support for the two girls born to the marriage.

Most of the murdered women rating a story by Rule have been easier to sympathize with. Though Sheila certainly didn’t deserve to be murdered, she was not a really likeable character even with the rather neutral portrayal painted by Rule. Early on in the marriage, Allen intentionally hit a motorcycle rider who passed him on the highway. Sheila stood by as Allen lied about what happened in the accident which killed both the driver and the rider on the bike. When Allen pushed Sheila’s parents under financially, she stood by Allen and moved away leaving her parents to deal with the fall out. During her second marriage, Sheila refused to stand up to Jamie who belted the girls on a pretty regular basis. In fact, Sheila used a belt on one of her daughters too and was charged with child abuse though was cleared on the charge.

Allen is clearly an evil person and did play games with Sheila and the girls and most anyone that he ever crossed paths with. The only things that really mattered to him were money and golf. Though he would bet and lose $30,000 in a single golf match, he balked at sending the $1100 child support check which ultimately had to be garnished from his company. His only interest in the girls was to use them to torture Sheila. He lavished the girls with gifts when they visited in his home and encouraged them to ignore any rules that Sheila established. Eventually, he signed away all rights to the girls and then set about having Sheila murdered.

Of course, Allen did not walk in and shoot Sheila in the face and then cut her neck as her four toddlers watched (She gave birth to the quads who were fathered by Jamie). Allen hired a hustler from the golf course who was living high on Allen’s golf bets and who wanted to live the same kind of fancy lifestyle. The hustler talked to a friend who had a friend . . . Allen sat back and thought that he would never answer for the crime, since he always managed to walk out of trouble with very few repercussions.

The book covers the story of the lives of Shelia, Allen, and family members dating back two generations. The various law enforcement agencies from two states and federal are also given solid coverage. Since the cast of characters is large, the book leads with a breakdown of the key players. There are really too many different people in the book including the names of reporters sitting in at the trial. Rule included “and the writer of this book” in that media list, and I just hate when writers do that. While I appreciate the attention to detail, some of the names didn’t add to the story and could have been eliminated to reduce the cast to a manageable size.

Photos are included in the center of the book. This has been a trend in true crime for quite some time. Some of the photos add to the book. Others come across as fillers. Rule worked in law enforcement, so I’m guessing that she wants to make sure that hardworking investigators are included, but the head shots of uniformed personnel really don’t have much appeal.

The major flaw in the book is the repetition. The story is told chronologically and then recapped in detail during the trial phase (the second half of the book). Though the book flows really well, it comes across as the same story told twice. An outline could be used to eliminate this problem and would reduce the size of the book and make it read better. I like big books IF the material is new throughout. In this case, the book should be about half the length.

Though this isn’t a perfect book, it’s an excellent example of a well-researched and well-told true crime. It’s not Rules best book, but it’s certainly above average. I’d recommend Bitter Harvest or Small Sacrifices for any reader who has not read Rule before. Those are smoother books that don’t drag with the double account of the same story told twice. This would be one to drop back and pick up after getting to know the style of the writer.

Every Breath You Take will be a movie on the U.S.A. network. I’m curious to see if the theme song is taken from the title which was a song by the group Police in 1983. “Every breath you take, I’ll be watching you,” seems to be a stretch. Allen was not so much a stalker as a man who couldn’t stand to lose. He didn’t stand outside the windows and look in. He had the money to find Sheila and to have her murdered—all from the comfort of his recliner in the pink mansion that he’ll never live in again. Most of Rule’s titles (perhaps selected by editors) match better to the story than this one.

If you’re interested in this book or any books by Rule, then visit the web site: www.annrules.com. You’ll find information about each of her books including this one and about her background which would make a good book too. Rule also puts up a newsletter that is interesting to check out.

If you don’t want to search out the books, then here is the list. I’ve read most of the Rule books and will review some of my favorites and add links here. She really has some fabulous stories and does a great job making the characters seem real.

Last Dance, Last Chance
Every Breath You Take
Empty Promises
And Never Let Her Go
A Rage to Kill
The End of the Dream
Ann Rule's Omnibus
Bitter Harvest
In the Name of Love
A Fever in the Heart
Dead by Sunset
You Belong to Me
A Rose for Her Grave
Everything She Ever Wanted
If You Really Loved Me
Small Sacrifices - http://www.epinions.com/content_99103248004
The Stranger Beside Me
Lust Killer
The I-5 Killer
The Want Ad Killer

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