Monday, 1 February 2010

Quick Review - BITTER HARVEST


Published in 1998

Ann Rule, a master of the true crime genre, tackles the case of a woman who has it all, then ends up doing two consecutive hard forties--forty years in prison for a capital offense in place of the death penalty--for the murders of two of her children and attempted murder of her third child and husband.

Debora Green and Mike Farrar seemed to have a perfect life. Both doctors, they had three active children and an affluent lifestyle. But beneath her devoted wife and mother facade, Debora concealed a volatile personality--she was subject to debilitating insecurities, extreme jealousy and violent rages.

After more than a decade, Mike had had enough and moved out. When their house burned to the ground, Debora and the children moved in with him. They bought a far grander house and Mike promised to make things work with his family. Life improved. For a while.

Once more reaching his limit with Debora, Mike again spoke of moving out and getting a divorce. This time the situation was different as he had met another woman.

Despite recurring bouts of ill health that brought him near death and the growing suspicion he was being poisoned, Mike moved out. Debora turned the children against their father with vile and untrue accusations, then began to drink heavily and take medication for depression. Mike often found her incoherent.

A stint in a psychiatric facility seemed to improve Debora's outlook and all seemed calm until one night Mike received a frantic phone call from a neighbor. His house was on fire! Debora was outside and one of their children managed to escape, but the other two died.

As the police and fire departments investigated it became apparent the fire was arson and the prime suspect with motive and means was Debora Green.

Rule gives us in meticulous detail facts of the investigation, who said/did what, dates, places, pictures. Involved doctors, investigators, lawyers, prosecutors, neighbors and friends add pertinent facts to the book.

Questions raised: Is Debora Green truly the monster who poisoned her husband, then plotted to kill her children by setting a fire that would trap them in their rooms? Is she a brilliant doctor who can't relate to people and, as some psychiatrists said, has the emotional intellect of a child? Can she reasonably claim she didn't know what she had done?

I pitied her at times. At others couldn't wait for her to be locked away.

I certainly pitied Mike for what he had to go through, yet wondered more than once why, knowing how unstable she was, he left the children in her care. Wishful thinking? Hoping for the best? I suppose his motives are another story, another book.

My greatest pity was for the children, two innocent lives lost, one changed forever. Though Rule assures us their lives were fairly normal I can't imagine this myself. They knew what was going on, however their love for their mother kept them fiercely loyal.


Conclusion: Like an episode of Law And Order, we see events unfold and lead toward a horrific crime, then the thorough work of prosecutors building their case. I found much of the book a suspenseful page turner.



--Cat