I confess that I have always struggled with reading nonfiction. Facts, dates, places, times; my mind tends to wander, and most times I find myself going through the book, picking out all the exciting bits and skimming over the rest, much like you would a salad. So, I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago when I came across Shanna Hogan’s book The Stranger She Loved: A Mormon Doctor, His Beautiful Wife, and an Almost Perfect Murder, a true-crime story so intriguing and filled with heart-stopping drama, I simply could not put it down.
Crime stories always reel me in because there’s always a part of me that tries to fathom how the criminal mind works, even though I know it’s probably futile to try. I can’t help but wonder what leads him/her to commit such heinous acts–and most of all, what makes them think they can get away with it?
This MacNeill case in particular was even more intriguing to me because, scarily, in spite of all the overwhelming evidence, the good Doctor almost did get away with it. And, had it not been for the relentless pursuit of some of his family members (even though it took them years to find justice) and the unwavering determination of their lawyers, he might very well be sitting on a beach somewhere sipping Margaritas.
The highly publicized trial, dubbed the “Facelift Murder Case” (you’ll have to read the book to see why) was carried live on television in 2013. I vaguely remember catching glimpses of it from time to time, but I didn’t keep up with it all the way through; but I’ll tell you that Shanna Hogan’s retelling of the events surrounding the case–from the very first morning Michele MacNeill was found in her bathtub to the final judgement passed down by the court to her husband Martin–was so engaging, the details so vividly presented, it was as though she was sitting at your kitchen table telling you the story herself.
As you read, you sense and feel the frustration of the women, Michele’s daughters and her sister, as their suspicions are initially brushed aside by the authorities as being nothing more than the speculations of grieving, emotional women.
You find yourself digging and searching alongside them as they work tirelessly to compile enough evidence to build a strong and sturdy case against Martin, all the while living in constant fear of him and what he might do if he found out what they were up to.
And finally you feel the angst. You feel the turmoil they must have experienced as they sat in that courtroom day after day, awaiting the verdict of the man who took away their mother, sister, daughter and friend.
Seeing that this was no Smoking Gun Murder, the fear that Martin MacNeill might walk away a free man was probably always at the back of their minds, and your heart aches for them while they sit at the edge of their seats awaiting a guilty verdict for Michele’s murder.
When I finally did close the book, in complete satisfaction, I felt as though I had been to that residence over in Pleasant Grove. I had walked through every room in the house, seen the MacNeills celebrate birthdays and Christmases, knew all of their friends and neighbors, and watched in horror as everything they had, everything they had believed in all their lives, unraveled in front of them at the hands of their father.
If I had to rate this book, I’d honestly give it five stars.
If you’re like me and drawn to true-crime stories, here are a few other titles that might interest you.
Practice to Deceive by Ann Rule
Exposed: The Secret Life of Jodi Arias by Jane Velez-Mitchell
Waiting to be Heard: A Memoir by Amanda Knox