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Nestled in Puget Sound, Whidbey Island is a gem of the Pacific Northwest; accessible only by ferry and the soaring Deception Pass Bridge, it is known for its artistic communities and stunning natural beauty. Life there is low-key, insular, and the island’s year-round residents tend to know one another’s business. But when the blooddrenched body of Russel Douglas was discovered the day after Christmas in his SUV in a hidden driveway near Whidbey’s most exclusive mansions, the whole island was shocked. A single bullet between his eyes was the cause of death, but no one could imagine who among them could plot such a devious, cold-blooded crime. At first, police suspected suicide, tragically common at the height of the holiday season. But when they found no gun in or near the SUV, Russel’s manner of death became homicide. Like a cast of characters from a classic mystery novel, a host of Whidbey residents fell under suspicion.
Brenna Douglas was Russel’s estranged and soon-to-be-ex wife, who allowed him to come home for a Christmas visit with their children. The couple owned the popular Just B’s salon. Brenna’s good friend Peggy Sue Thomas worked there, and Brenna complained often to her that Russel was physically and emotionally abusive. Peggy Sue’s own life has been one of extremes. Married three times, hers is a rags-to-riches-and-back-again tale in which she’s played many roles: aircraft mechanic, basketball coach, the “drop-dead gorgeous” beauty queen as a former Ms. Washington, Las Vegas limousine driver, million-dollar horse breeder, wealthy divorcée. But in 2003, her love affair with married guitarist Jim Huden led the two Whidbey Island natives to pursue their ultimate dreams of wealth and privilege—even at the expense of human life.
I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Review by Travis Starnes
Practice to deceive follows a murder investigation on a small island in the Puget Sound. A lot of unusually suspicious parties surround the Christmas day murder of Russell Douglass, unfortunately evidence is a lot more sparse. The detectives spend eight years talking to anyone connected to the man and his murder in an effort to solve one of the toughest mysteries they will come across.
Ann Rule has been doing true crime for more than 30 years and she is a real master at her craft. While this book is far from perfect it hits all the notes you would want in a true crime novel and is pretty solid read. This book has everything going for it; greed, sex and scandal.
The one big thing that stands out for me in this book is the narrative voice Mrs. Rule uses. Unlike many of the true crime books I have read this book feels more like mystery fiction then an accounting of events. In fact, if I was not already familiar with Rule and her style I might have thought this was indeed fiction, and well written fiction at that. She is expert at painting a scene and giving you a real feel for everything that happened.
Similarly all of the people surrounding Douglass’s murder are well written with enough personality on the page that they read like well crafted characters. You really have to applaud Detective Plumberg’s doggedness at following this case and chasing down the hard to find leads. Equally you can’t help but hate many of the people in Douglass’s life. At every point I was hoping to see his wife get some kind of comeuppance for her so cold and greedy personality. You could almost feel how contemptible she was through the book. This is the real strength of the book. Rule really makes you connect, either positively or negatively, with everyone you meet.
There is one big flaw however. Several of the people you encounter have interesting backstories, and Rule cannot help but digress to them. That in of itself would not be such a bad thing except that some of these digressions are incredibly long and only tangentially affect your understanding of the main events in the book. At one point she spends 30+ pages giving a very detailed biography of one of the major players in the book which is completely skipable. Not that those events are uninteresting by themselves but it completely sidetracks the main story and puts the breaks on an otherwise well passed story. The important pieces from these peoples backgrounds could be laid out simply in a page or two and then let the reader return to the story they are invested in. What makes this worse is she does just that with several other character backstories, meaning she is perfectly capable of reigning in these side journeys. Someone reading this book for the first time can skip these sections and loose little understanding or enjoyment.
Other than the pacing issue this is a solid true crime book and would be a good read for anyone that enjoys the true crime genre or mystery fiction.