With her eight true-crime books (some written under the name Andy Stack), Ann Rule has become a master of the genre, displaying remarkable perseverance as she tracks down every last detail and clears up each question. With so much human misery stored away in her mind, she is well-equipped to psychoanalyze her subjects to find out just why they do such terrible things.
In "Everything She Ever Wanted," Ms. Rule follows the long and complicated story of two proud Southern clans, the Silers and the Allansons. Even before the two become intertwined, they are strangely dysfunctional families, the Allansons being too cold and cruel and the Silers too kind and giving.
But there were exceptions to those patterns: sweet and gullible Tom Allanson and greedy, manipulative Pat, the Siler sweetheart, who married Tom and, in the process, destroyed both families.
The book develops slowly as Ms. Rule slyly hints at what might happen but never lets the truth slip out too early. Her fans may find this book less titillating than her extremely gruesome "The Lust Killer," with its graphic descriptions of necrophilia and mutilation, and "The Want-Ad Killer," which featured the sexual perversities of "Harv the Hammer."
But in place of such shockers we have the equally sordid games that Pat plays out, using her manipulative mind rather than hammers and knives.
As in Ms. Rule's most recent book, "Small Sacrifices" (about a young mother who shoots her children), the writer concentrates on family ties and the sociopathic (and, in both unusual cases, female) mind. Pat is evil and ruthless, to the point of nearly ruining everyone who ever gets close to her, yet we keep reading, trying to figure out what she'll conjure up next and -- more important -- why.
Pat thinks nothing of poisoning a person, even her own children or in-laws, or carving up her own flesh if it gets her what she craves most -- unfailing attention.
But even as she plots these bizarre crimes and has momentary success, in the end Pat is a failure, both as a killer and as a master manipulator. For all her schemes, she ends up in prison not once but twice, and even loses the ethereal beauty that so aided her youthful quests.
Usually true-crime subjects are cold-blooded killers stalking innocent strangers. But here the subject is a "very nice and lovely lady" who never actually kills (at least not with her own hands).
Ms. Rule, in her motherly way, tells the story in intimate detail, describing each thought that Pat and her family have, each piece of joy and tragedy in their overfilled lives, yet she doesn't bore the reader with trivia.
The book paints a haunting picture of the subject's family: Pat's alternately neglected and smothered children and grandchildren and, the saddest victims of all, Pat's parents, who would stop at nothing "to make things easier for Pat."
At times Ms. Rule's deadpan sentences are overdramatic: "Tom's parents' total rejection had crushed Pat. It had leached the joy from her life, leaving her marriage flat and serene." But then the subject is truly dramatic, a woman given to fainting spells and bursts of seductive tears.
Although Ms. Rule paints Pat as the most awful of human beings, the reader can't help but think that Pat Siler Radcliffe Taylor, still in jail, is reading the book and loving it because, at last, she is the center of attention.
Title: "Everything She Ever Wanted."
Author: Ann Rule.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster.
Length, price: 527 pages, $23.