A few months back, I complained that the last couple of true crime books I'd read were duds. Not so the last one I picked up, House of Secrets. It was definitely a page-turner -- each time I read it, I could hardly put it down, and I pretty much blew through it in just a few days.
When I look at true crime books and try to figure out what I want to read, I have some basic guidelines. First of all, I'm pretty sure that half the books on the shelf in the True Crime section of any bookstore at any particular time are about men who kill their wives. I've read a lot of those, and they can be facinating, but unless the description on the book alludes to some kind of strange twist or it's written by one of a handful of authors whose books I always read, I usually avoid those. It's getting to be the same with books about women who kill their husbands -- there are fewer of them, but I've read a number of them, and after a while, the whole "black widow" thing gets a little old. I am also not big on books about serial killers, or the ones about well-known cases. I might make an exception if I like the author -- I am looking forward to Ann Rule's new book on the Green River Killer -- but not always. I think Vincent Bugliosi is awesome, but I am not interested in reading anything about the O.J. Simpson case, even Bugliosi's book, Outrage.
House of Secrets falls into the "twisted family" category, and I usually relish those, though they are very disturbing. In this one, you have a family with 12 kids who kind of keep to themselves. Naturally, it turns out that dad rules the family like a cult-leader and subjects the kids to horrifying physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Mom says she is a victim too, and the kids say that he beats her up sometimes but she also seems to participate in Dad's abuse of them pretty willingly. The kids are beaten regularly, kept under lock and key, and encouraged to tattle on each other for any little infraction. Sons are sodomized, daughters are raped, and two of them even bear their father's children. Finally, one daughter steps forward and starts talking to social services, but even though the minor kids are removed from the home and Dad is arrested, things get fouled up, the parents manage to take off to another state with most of the kids, and by the time they are arrested, their baby grandson and son-in-law have been murdered. Though he didn't physically participate in either murder, Dad is convicted in the killing of the son-in-law and now sits on Death Row in Florida. But he was never charged for any of the hundreds of crimes of abuse he committed against any of his 12 children. A few of the older ones spent time in prison for crimes they committed at his behest, while the others tried to pull their lives together. The minors had their names changed and were adopted by other families. Nearly all of them suffered from debilitating emotional and mental illness after finally escaping their father's clutches.
After that doozy of a book, it was nice to read something light. I'd seen the "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" book and sequels but hadn't been overly interested in reading them. I guess the work "Ladies" threw me off and I was thinking it was going to be some kind of "Ya-ya" type with about female bonding. Instead, there is only the one lady, Mma Precious Ramotswe, a cheerful roly poly woman who opens her own detective agency after her father dies. She is the only female detective in her beloved country of Botswana, and she solves mysteries great and small with cleverness and good humor. I particularly enjoyed the part where a woman comes to her wanting proof that her husband is cheating on her, and Mma Ramotswe lures the wayward husband to her home and takes of picture of him kissing her -- not exactly what the angry wife had in mind. Anyway, very cute, and I don't know how much of a discussion the book will generate, but I will definitely pick up the others in the series next time I want read something fun and familiar.