Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The "Best" Spousal Murder Stories

by Laura James

Books about spousal murder, when done well, can make for the most insightful psychological reading around. That's why we love to read them. That's why we love to study these cases. That's why spousal murders have been one of the most perennially popular themes in literature, fiction and non-. When we crack open the bedroom door on a marriage that went to hell, we often wonder, do we see anything recognizable?

The greatest strength and appeal of well-written books in this theme lie in the psychological analysis of the principals. Sometimes this is done by the author, who comes right out with her conclusions about the causes of matrimonial disasters. Sometimes the facts speak for themselves, and perfect reporting with nary a hint of error or fictionalizing can speak powerfully to the character of the husbands and wives who end up at one another's throats. By the time we're done with the best of these books, we can fathom the endings.

The best five books about a spousal murder that I have ever read -- the most insightful, the most revealing of the nature of a couple -- strictly non-fiction, true crime, of course -- are these five books.

A Crime of Passion by Stanley Loomis - L'Affaire Praslin, a spousal murder story of great human drama involving French royalty, played out in the weeks immediately prior to the bloodbath of 1848. Searing in its perceptions of the husband and wife -- a Duke and Duchess, murderer and murderee -- it is a terrific book published forty years ago that deserves to be better known and loved today. It's a true spine-tingler.

Until the 12th of Never by Bella Stumbo - The murder of Dan and Linda Broderick by Betty Broderick. It’s impossible to finish this without having a strong opinion on the case.

Dead by Sunset by Ann Rule - The murder of Cheryl Cunningham by Brad Cunningham. Said Kirkus: “This book is better plotted than the murder itself.”

She Wanted It All by Kathryn Casey - The murder of Steve Beard by Celeste Beard and Tracey Tarlton. An even better title might have been She Couldn’t Wait.

Gone Forever by Diane Fanning - The murder of Susan McFarland by Richard McFarland told in chilling detail through the victim's diary and the murderer's confession.

I'd love to hear your suggestions along these lines... or the reason you find yourself drawn to macabre stories of marriages that ended in bloody tragedies.


Stephanie said...

I thought Fatal Vision was well done. It has it's possible flaws but was a very good read. I think people are drawn to these stories because everyone can relate to the intense nature of the relationship between husband & wife.

FleaStiff said...

Well, I'm more the Fatal Justice type. As to spousal murders, things like the Betty Broderick are rather rare: a murder by a woman obsessed with having been cast aside. Rather than delving into the psyche of a woman who refused to get on with her life as a divorced woman, I'm more interested in books dealing with the more commonly encountered situation of a wife who wishes to become a rich widow. Or a man who opts for murder rather than a community property settlement.

Sibby said...

Ann Rule also wrote about the murder of Jennifer Corbin by her husband, Bart Corbin in "Too Late To Say Goodbye". This sordid murder was similar to Bart's previous murder of his then girlfriend Dolly Hearn, which was unproven at that time. Read the book to find out more about this very complex case.

Daphne said...

i'm with Stephanie. I think Fatal Vision still stands up as one of the greats, with kudos for being written when true crime was a burgeoning genre and not the entire bookstore section it is today!