The Doctor Is In(sane)

Bitter Harvest: Arson and Murder in the Heartland by Ann Rule

Castor beans are the source of the poison ricin. Who knew? Dr. Green did.

In this tour de force from America’s best true-crime writer, Ann Rule’s fans will recognize in Bitter Harvest shades of Everything She Ever Wanted‘s pretty poisoner Pat Allanson in Dr. Debora Green, a Kansas woman boiling over with anger.

Green envies her husband, Mike Farrar. She begrudges his youthfulness, his successful medical career, and his easy manner with women. Though the two have been married for 18 years and have three children, their relationship has always been rocky. Debora is cruel, vindictive, and has at various times been dependent on pills and alcohol.

In 1995, with the family in quiet disorder, Mike and Debora plan a vacation to Peru. The trip is, in Mike’s mind, their final act as a couple. While there, Mike meets Celeste Walker, the beautiful wife of an unhappy doctor and an old friend of Debora’s. After the trip, Mike and Celeste begin an affair; Debora finds out, and Mike suddenly begins to suffer debilitating stomach problems, causing him to be frequently hospitalized.

Mike eventually discovers several packets of castor beans in Debora’s handbag. The bean is the source of ricin, a deadly poison that is later discovered in Mike’s bloodstream. As he begins to recover, he moves out of the house and announces plans to divorce Debora. Only weeks later, a suspicious house fire occurs, the second to strike the family. This time it’s fatal: The couple’s son and younger daughter die; Debora and the middle daughter survive. An investigation leads back to the furious, defiant Debora, who confesses to both the poisoning and the arson after a carefully rendered and gripping preliminary hearing.

She is now in a Kansas prison doing “a hard forty.” Impossible to put down (though a little skimpy on psychiatric details), this is, thanks to the vivid, fascinating portrait of Debora and of the slow unraveling of her homicidal schemes, one of Rule’s best.

BITTER HARVEST Arson and Murder in the Heartland by Ann Rule

 

 

Rebecca Kurson

Rebecca Kurson writes about literature, pop culture, television, science fiction and music. Her work has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Observer, The Federalist and Rodale's Organic Life.

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