Picks and Pans Review: If You Really Loved Me
David Arnold Brown of Garden Grove, Calif., would head anybody's list of most despicable people. In 1985, Brown, 32, was on his fifth marriage and was also sleeping with his then wife's 16-year-old sister. He talked his 14-year-old daughter by an earlier marriage into murdering his (heavily insured) wife, then turned the daughter in to the police and virtually abandoned her after her conviction.
In 1988, Brown was living high with a new wife—the sister-in-law—and their baby when his still-imprisoned daughter, Cinnamon, realized she had been duped and disclosed the truth behind her stepmother's murder.
Although he was far less attractive than serial killer Ted Bundy (profiled by Rule in The Stranger Beside Me), Brown, like Bundy, had a deadly gift: He was charming, especially to young women. And IK; used his charm to enslave people psychologically.
As true-crime villains go, Brown is compelling—the more so because of meticulous reporting by Rule, an ex-policewoman. The author also has a real affinity for Jay Newell, an original detective on the case, who pursued it long after it was officially closed.
Rule is less skilled as a writer; her prose is Dragnet-style deadpan in places and hyperbolic in others. (The homes of those involved, she writes, "were in a perfectly straight line...almost a fault line of evil.") She also grabs on to images—such as David Brown as a phoenix that self-resurrects from its ashes—and won't let go.
Still, her tale is can't-put-it-down sleazy, and the characters are fascinating, if indecipherable. (An earlier book on the case became a TV movie, Love, Lies and Murder, broadcast this February.) In her afterword, Rule says that she suspects Brown, now serving a life sentence without possibility of parole, "detests women" and that he became the monster he is at least partly because he had "an aggressive mother and a meek father." Would that such monsters were so simple to categorize, so easy to explain away. (Simon and Schuster, $22.95)