Ann Rule has a very specific style. She is thorough yet compassionate, detailed yet tactful. She sometimes comes across as a mother-figure, warning readers of the dangers that everyday people can encounter anywhere, anytime. She has shown us that killers can come in all forms, through tales of serial killing predators like Ted Bundy and child-killing mothers like Diane Downs. For Jerry Harris, that danger came in the form of a friend.
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"In the Name of Love: and Other True Cases" is the fourth volume in Ann Rule's Crime Files series. This novel features the title case, which occupies the first 296 pages of the 414 page book, as well as four short stories that are 25-30 pages in length each. The central theme of the book is love that ends brutally.
The title story "In the Name of Love" focuses on the tragic story of Jerry Harris and his young wife Susan. Jerry fell victim to the oldest murder motive around...money. Jerry was a semi-successful businessman in California. For many years, he juggled a few various types of businesses, and did rather well for himself. He built a happy stable life for himself and his beloved wife Susan. Susan was happy to stand quietly beside the man she loved and beam with pride at his accomplishments in business and entertainment. They had truly found bliss after settling into their dream home when tragedy struck the couple that everyone envied. Steve Bonilla was a clingy, ne'r do well. He latched on to Jerry like a lost puppy, and Jerry played mentor when many other people couldn't even tolerate Steve's presence. He took pity on him, and tried to help him land an opportunity or two. In the beginning of Jerry's business ventures, he had taken loans from Steve's mother, but he always paid them back as his ventures paid off. After such pay-offs, it was Jerry who had the success, and it was Jerry who wound up with the life that Steve wanted. Steve would try to pass himself off as a big, important man, posing as the owner of Steve's establishments, when he really never had more than a bit part in any of them. Through it all, Jerry said nothing, and continued to offer Steve every opportunity he could to make something of himself on his own steam. It was never enough. Steve finally decided he wanted it all. He hired two bumbling drunks who needed quick cash to ambush, kidnap and kill Jerry.
This story, in itself, is not a surprising one. You know what to expect, and who the guilty party is right from the beginning. It also is not a truly unique story or motive. The appeal of the story lies not in the murder itself, but in the story of Susan Harris, Jerry's widow. If it were not for Susan, this story would not have been worthy of a novel on its own. This is the kind of story you hear about often. The surprising aspect is Susan. You do not expect this quiet, doting, wallflower wife to find such an impressive strength and will in light of the murder of her husband. Where many people would cave in and cower, Susan fought with a fierceness to keep her husband's businesses going, to find and punish his killer(s), and to protect herself and her family when she became a target herself. Steve Bonilla underestimated Susan, and while reading the story, so did I. Rule displays her usual attachment to the case in the following passage... "As I began this book, Susan uncorked one of the few remaining bottles of Jerry's favorite Silver Oak Cabernet wine, and we drank a toast to him and to a book that would make him come alive in readers' minds." This is exactly what she did. Jerry and Susan can easily be your neighbors and best friends by the time you are through reading about them. It is an easy story to attach to.
The four remaining short stories are: "Murder and the Proper Housewife", "The Most Dangerous Game", "How it Feels to Die" and "The Killer Who Never Forgot...Or Forgave".
"Murder and the Proper Housewife" spins the tale of an average housewife who conspired to have her friend's husband killed. Her friend, Rose Stahl didn't love her husband nearly as much as the trust fund he was holding on to. Nancy Brooks decided to help her friend with this dilemma when she conspired to have another friend's son kill Art Stahl. It is a twisted tale that leaves many questions unanswered in this shortened version. I would love to see it in more of a focal point in another novel. The relationships covered here were probably quite intricate and worth exploring in-depth.
"The Most Dangerous Game" was appropriately compared by Rule to the story of the same name that most of us read in a high school literature class. This version covers the horror that faced two young girls who decided to run away from home and "rough it" in a vacant cabin, with a stranger, in a snowstorm. It is a perfect display of utter helplessness and terror that is sure to leave chills racing down your spine.
"What it Feels Like to Die" chronicles the stalking of a young woman in flight from an abusive marriage. When a group of young single females take on a new roommate, they have no idea of the horror that is to follow. The new roommate is being hunted by a man who just can't let her go. Tragically, it is not the wife that winds up bearing the brunt of his rage when he finally snaps.
"The Killer Who Never Forgot...or Forgave" details the unthinkable murder of a young mother and her seven month old baby girl. The prime suspect is the husband / father. After some turbulence in the relationship that had included an extramarital affair, Arne Kaarsten and his wife Jody had reconciled and had a second child. All seemed well in their marriage when Arne suddenly revealed his scorn in the worst way possible.
This is not, by any means, Ann Rule's best work. While the mechanics of her writing are still true to form, the primary story just lacks the pizazz and suspense that we've come to expect from Rule. It almost seems to have a different angle to it, as the primary appeal is in the story of Susan's survival, not Jerry's death. There is no deep psychoanalyzing of Steve Bonilla. Truthfully, he would not make for a brilliant study. He was simply greedy, selfish and materialistic. Go into this reading expecting a different focus and a different approach, but go into it with an open-mind. It is worth the read.
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