1. What are you currently reading? Written in Blood by Diane Fanning. In 2001, Michael Peterson called 911. His wife, Kathleen, was dead at the foot of the basement stairs. He insisted she fell after too many glasses of wine and hit her head. The police didn't believe this for a moment.
I was self-employed (underemployed) in 2003 and watched Peterson's trial almost daily. I've wanted to revisit it ever since I heard Colin Firth was going to play Petersen in an upcoming HBO mini-series.
Let me state it plainly: I believe he beat his wife to death when she confronted him about his gay trysts. I think that this soulless sociopath quickly did the math: if Kathleen left him, he'd be penniless; if he killed her, he'd be a millionaire, thanks to her life insurance and benefits. While watching the trial in real-time, I came to hate him. The facts of this case have not improved my appraisal.
But this book is so very biased, I can see why people may be sympathetic to the pro-Peterson Netflix documentary series Staircase. Example, Diane Fanning completely fangirls over prosecutor Freda Black. I thought she was a clown. From this book, you would never get how over-the-top, bug-eyed, Suzanne-Sugarbaker-on-steroids she was before the jury. Conversely, Fanning consistently slams defense attorney David Rudolf for being "arrogant." Too slick in his fancy suits. Too mean to prosecution witnesses. In real time, I didn't see that at all. I saw a trial lawyer defending his client, which is how the system works. I disagreed with just about everything out of his mouth, but I appreciated his passion and (seeming) sincerity.
I've been a juror twice, once in a murder trial. I wonder if Ms. Fanning has ever sat in a jury box.
So, do I recommend this book? Kinda/sorta. It's a fascinating case and Fanning is thorough (if not unbiased). She also brings Kathleen Peterson to life on these pages. So often the victims are forgotten. I'm adding a photo of her here, just to emphasize that she was:
• The first woman to be accepted into the engineering program at Duke University
• A white-collar female trailblazer. Kathleen was an executive first at Merck and then at Nortel. Pharma and tech. In the 80s, when her career was beginning, these were not exactly diverse or welcoming executive suites.
• A philanthropist, a force in the Durham arts community.
• A loving mother, not only to her own daughter Caitlin but to the teenage girls Peterson brought to their marriage.
2. What did you recently finish reading? The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena. Anne and Marco are invited to dinner by the couple next door. At the last moment, their babysitter cancels. Anne wants to stay home with their 6-month-old daughter, but Marco insists they go anyway. It's just next door! Theirs is a row house, they share a wall with their neighbors so they couldn't be any closer. They have a baby monitor so they can hear every noise the baby makes. If little Cora needs them, they can be home in less than two minutes. What could go wrong?
What a roller coaster ride this one is! The plot is twisty. The narration is spare, which gives it a distinct documentary feel. My only complaint is that it ends too abruptly. I'm sure I had a "what the hey?" look on my face at the finish. I would have preferred a denouement, a where-are-they-now about each of the characters.
This is one of those books that makes me glad I'm a barren spinster. No one is happily married. No one is as he or she seems. Everyone has secrets and everyone stands to lose if the whole truth comes out.
3. What will you read next? Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger. The library just pinged. It's available!