Within the pages of this novel you will hear the voices of many different characters that will relate the events of a murder of two precious children in their own way. The accused JoBeth Ruland admits to killer Daniel and Casey to protect them from growing up without a mother and father. But, first we learn about Sarah who is attending Northwestern University Law School and whose entire world and perspective on her future changed with two simple telephone messages. First she learns that the internship that her father had arranged for her to interview for fell through and she was denied. Fearful of the wrath she would endure if he learned the truth, Sarah cleverly concocts a story that she wants to help her best friend JoBeth’s defense team clear her of the murder of her two children. Not allowing her parents to know the truth behind this deception, she manages to secure a position on the defense team and returns home to Eight Mile Junction, South Carolina. This town is comprised of people that gossip, are judgmental and often form opinions that are prejudicial, uncompromising and hard to change. In order to allow herself to stay in her father’s good graces, which after you meet him you’ll understand why she wanted to hide the truth about the interview, Sarah becomes a top- notch asset to the defense team but her father, holds her to task and does not give her any real praise as you wonder why she even bothers. Set in his ways, demanding that his wife Ellen adhere to his demands and schedule, you do not form any love or alliance with this man and wonder why his own wife puts up with him. Meeting the people in this town you will find that many feel that JoBeth deserves what she gets, hope that she is put to death and as you meet them and look at each one closely you wonder how they dare to pass judgment on her when they are not so perfect either and have secrets to hide. The senior law partner, John Two seems to accept her while Al; the trial attorney uses her for his own pleasure. This is a small town in the Appalachian foothills and Sarah is dead set on convincing her father, the law firm and even herself that this was the right move for her future. John –Two, insists on calling her Little Lady, which is demeaning. Al, the trial expert seems to dislike her at first, does not think she has what it takes and treats her like a secondhand used car ready to be traded in for a newer and sharper model. As she interviews many of the witnesses to be called she learns a lot about JoBeth, the accusations she made against her stepfather and learns about Howard her stepfather, Vera her mother whose opinion of her own daughter is hateful, resentful and considers her nothing more than someone who has sexual fantasies’ and even worse a slut. Each person questioned has already demeaned her guilty even her own mother. Meeting with JoBeth she wonders why she did kill her children, was it intentional and why does she claim that she is dead when in reality she is very much alive. JoBeth tells Sarah while interviewing her about her mother, her former husband Phillip, who divorced her, his lies and deceptions, her ex-husband’s mistress and even worse claiming that her stepfather was the reason for what she did added in another young guy that she thought was right for her. Listening to her and then the Prosecutor Dunning question the witnesses, Al refuting their testimony hoping to counteract the damage done, we learn of the hate that Vera Maitlin had for her daughter, the defense she gives Howard, who is definitely guilty of being a pedophile, and her own importance in the community as she had the truth covered up. When the school nurse demanded that something be done when JoBeth brought this to her attention about Howard, they claimed she made it up, was a figment of her imagination you might say, but never expected the notes from that meeting to resurface at trial.
A trial that changed everything for Sarah as startling revelations were revealed but the final outcome of the trial and the verdict was never given to readers. Although we know she was guilty, we heard her voice at the end with Sarah, readers might wonder what the jury would find and if JoBeth is finally with her children. Listening to her lover speaks and say she was a good mother, you wonder why he believed that. Listening to her ex-husband sound as if he were cast aside for his own children, rationalizing his cheating and stating he had no place in his own house, does that constitute his actions? Does that make them right?
Sara, Vera, Howard and her father Sam all betrayed someone or even themselves so why was she so fast to pass judgment of others? Lies, betrayals, deceits, revenge, family loyalties, friendships and trust are all at the heart of this novel by author Dorothy M. Place. A story that could be ripped right out of the headlines without the final verdict revealed, as you wonder did the jury find her guilty and give her the death penalty, did they show mercy or did she get life? When will Sarah realize that her life is her own and she did not need her father to create her path? When will she become her own person? While the jury belabors what was done to JoBeth, her parents, lovers, boss and even husband, is she really mentally defective? Is this is why she killed her children but we never really know? Sarah Wasser turns out to be a force to be reckoned with when dealing with the trial but not with her own life. Will the courtroom scene change it all?
An ending that makes readers wonder if the author is going to continue Sarah’s story and bring her back allowing us to know what the future holds for her. We also wonder what the fate of JoBeth is and whether the jury and town pitied her enough to put her away for life in a mental institution? Will they realize she intentionally killed her children so they would not live a life like hers? Who is she to decide that? What mother in her right might as THE HEART TO KILL? There is much pause for thought after reading this novel and getting inside the courtroom, the visitor’s room along with Sarah and JoBeth and you wonder how this would play out as the author sets the scene quite well in a real courtroom today. Sarah is strong to a point and JoBeth manipulative and smart. Which one wins or do they both lose?
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine