Heart Full of Lies
Ann Rule
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Buy *Heart Full of Lies: A True Story of Desire and Death* online

Heart Full of Lies: A True Story of Desire and Death
Ann Rule
Time Warner
416 pages
October 2004
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Ann Rule's name is familiar to many who love true crime; she has authored nineteen New York Times national bestsellers, including Last Dance, Last Chance, A Rage to Kill and Lust Killer. She has worked as a policewoman, is an advocate for victims of violent crime, and often lectures to law enforcement personnel and the FBI. She obviously knows her subject, has found her voice, and does an immense amount of research. The detail and the number of people in Heart Full of Lies, her latest book, are impressive.

This is the story of Liysa Northon, a mother of two boys and wife to a third husband, Chris (whom she ultimately murders), a woman who is now residing in the Oregon State Prison for a dozen more years. Liysa is an attractive, creative, professional woman. The book chronicles her life, her relationships with all three husbands and her two young boys, and her quite successful career as a writer and photographer. She came from a divorced family; she claimed to be abused by her mother, but remains close to her father, a retired college president.

Chris Northon was an airline pilot for Hawaiian Airlines, well-liked and considered easy-tempered. He was a physically tall and powerful, handsome, popular man a few years Liysa's senior. He, like Liysa, seemed to be a good, devoted parent, especially to his own son, Bjorn. The couple had two homes -- one in Hawaii, the other in Oregon. Life seemed good. Money was not a problem, and they had a great sex life. But, as their marriage continued, Liysa became increasingly disenchanted and unhappy with him, and began talking to her friends and her father about how Chris abused her and was an alcoholic. Her stories grew in their magnitude; most of her friends believed her. Finally, on a camping trip with their youngest son in fall 2000, she (now thirty-eight years old) killed Chris -- supposedly in self-defense -- and drove away.

Although the characters' personalities are probed in great detail, two things still puzzle this reader. How did Liysa become so fantastical in her thinking? Was it purely a ploy to inherit insurance money, or was there validity to her stories of spousal abuse? Was she herself abused as a child? How did Chris fool his family and his pilot friends if he was indeed an abusive husband? Did something snap, or had he, too, been abused as a child? Early childhood background would have helped this reader know what to believe.

But this information may never have come out in the literature or in the trial. Rule never met these people; she relied on reams and reams of testimony, interviews, e-mails, and even anonymous tips. Although she originally didn't want to believe that the woman had murdered her husband (or that she had cause), she came to different conclusions during her writing and investigations. She began to see her as a real sociopath. However, she admits,

"My last four books have been about women who were abused, killed or nearly killed by someone who promised to love them and care for them, and I have long been a strong advocate and contributor to domestic violence support groups. So I had to struggle with my own preconceptions and prejudices as I began my research. In the end, I found that I could not explain the gaping inconsistencies in Liysa's recounting of her marriage and the way her husband died."
This is a good, suspenseful read. The writing is not brilliant -- it is rather flatly journalistic. But the narrative is captivating. Liysa remains in prison; her two sons are growing up in friends' care. She is supposedly a model inmate, and she continues to try to reduce her sentence. Although I still don't know what to believe about the characters' motivations, I know the story is gripping and tragic.

© 2004 by Deborah Straw for Curled Up With a Good Book

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