Pros: Gripping, compelling tale of a "family" gone wrong.
Cons: Convoluted, can be confusing at times what with all the players.
Wow! This book was a real reading experience, not only for the shock value of the story line, but also for its gritty reality about familial relationships. Once again, Ann Rule has hit a home run with this true crime tale about an extended family and lives gone terribly wrong. I do agree with one of the other reviewers, that Rule is a master of the true crime genre as she is a great writer and pays meticulous attention to detail about her subjects. Not only does Rule tell this story with a keen eye on who the characters are, she also gives the reader a vivid glimpse into the environment, both geographically and socially, that her true life characters find themselves a part of.
"If You Really Loved Me" takes place in Southern California, Garden Grove to be exact. Garden Grove is depicted as being somewhat of a sleepy bedroom community, not far from Los Angeles proper. The murder of one Linda Bailey Brown occurs one night in early spring of 1985. Linda was a 23 year-old girl from a quite hardscrabble background and she married David Brown who she hoped would rescue her from her poverty-stricken life and deprivation. David Brown, Linda's husband, is a computer programmer turned computer industry CEO who strikes it rich with his own electronics business. At the time of Linda's murder, the two were living in a small rented house in Garden Grove, California, but were planning to move to a much larger and more exalted home in a well-to-do neighborhood in Anaheim Hills, not too far from Disneyland.
On that March night in 1985 however, Linda Brown's life comes to a rude and complete halt; she is brutally murdered by David's young daughter, Cinnamon Brown. At the time of Linda's demise, David and Linda are living with Linda's younger sister, Patti who is the step-aunt to Cinnamon. Mind you, Cinnamon and Patti are nearly the same age and they even attended the same highschool! Linda and David have a child of their own, Krystal, who never really got the chance to know her mother. Murder is always tragic enough, but the clincher comes when DAvid Brown points the finger at his own daughter Cinnamon during the investigation. David claims that he had run out to the store for something the night Linda was killed and that he came home to find that Cinnamon had shot and killed his young wife.
How could the 14 year-old Cinnamon do this and why? Why would she so brutally shoot and kill her stepmother who wasn't much older than herself? The only two living people in the house were Patti Bailey, the victim's kid sister who was 17 at the time and Brown's daughter from his first marriage, Cinnamon. This story takes a circuitous road of twists and turns which makes it a gripping tale even for the most hardened true crime reader. Sometimes, despite Rule's brilliant literary maneuvering, it is hard to keep track of all the characters and what role they may or may not have played in this murder.
Cinnamon is picked up by the police and is questioned in a state of near drug overdose. Apparently, she swallowed several bottles of aspirin and other drugs when she was discovered hiding out in the dog house, hours after the murder. David Brown, Cinnamon's own father and her step-aunt, Patti Bailey would try to pin the crime on her. Some family!!! In time however, it would become obvious that DAvid Brown's role was far more sinister and less innocent than he tried to portray. Life in the Brown household had become strange if not downright bizarre what with the sexual abuse and obsessions, greed, lust, and unbelievable mind games. David Brown was behind all of this strangeness and it would be many years before the truth about his wife's murder would finally emerge.
This is not so much a story about Linda Brown, for she seems to be but a footnote in this saga. "If You Really Loved Me" is more focused on who is David Brown, what makes him tick? What did he stand to gain by plotting to kill his wife, and more importantly, why would he let his 14 year-old daughter take the fall for this killing? The heroes in this tale are veteran investigators, Fred McLean and Jay Newell, who for years threw up their hands in frustration at not being able to solve this case. From the start, things did not seems to square with the facts where David Brown was concerned, it just seemed to convenient that he left the home for a few minutes at the time of the murder. The two investigators wanted some basic questions answered. Who actually pulled the trigger of the gun that killed the fifth Mrs. Brown, and who had wanted her dead and why? Cinnamon didn't seem to have any particular animosity towards her step-mom, as it had been Linda who had agreed to allow the girl to live with her and David, in their marital home.
Thanks to these two tenacious criminal investigators, McClean and Newell, the truth finally does come out and DAvid Brown and Patti Bailey are indicted and convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. Oh yeah, the most interesting twist of this story is probably that of the relationship between David Brown and his teenaged sister-in-law. Patti and David eventually get married and have a child of their own, a daughter named Heather. For several years, before it is uncovered that David actually planned and staged the murder that implicated his daughter, he and Patti Bailey led a charmed life in ritzy Anaheim Hills. Eventually, David and his sixth bride, Patti would become estranged and David would point his finger at her. Oh what a tangled web one weaves....
This is a convoluted tale about a sociopath and the victims he left in his wake. There was some evidence that Cinnamon was the one who shot Linda, but sometimes, the people who mastermind the conspiracy to murder someone are more culpable than the actual killer. Cinnamon was housed in the Ventura School, which is a euphemism for juvenile prison. Even after the facts were uncovered by the investigators, they decided to keep Cinnamon locked up until her 25th birthday. David and Patti were eventually convicted of this crime and will spend the rest of their lives behind bars. What with the persistance and temerity of McClean and Newell, this case represents a triumph for justice for Linda Brown. There are many tragedies surrounding this story and it seems that the Brown family was dysfunction personified. There were no winners in this, but at least now, the beautiful, blond and innocent Linda Brown can rest in peace.
Another great read from Ann Rule.