Top positive review
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on October 12, 2010
"Small Sacrifices" was written over twenty years ago and it remains one of the greatest true crime stories of all time. Ann Rule is a first class writer. She is so well known for her true crime books that it's easy to forget that her writing- her writing style- is very fine indeed, full of elegant descriptions of the Pacific northwest that she knows so well, remarkable insights of the players on her stage and heavily flavored with almost unbearable suspense. The research required to pen "Small Sacrifices," which took three years to write, was staggering. The book is just as topical today as it was when it was written, and the tragic saga of one woman's unspeakable crime will forever tear at the reader's heartstrings.
Diane Downs shot all three of her children in the car and then dawdled along on the way to the hospital, giving the children time to die. Her little girl Cheryl died at almost once, "death so close behind her it could whisper in her ear" while Christie and Danny were heroically saved by the medical personnel at the hospital emergency ward, but both children were severely handicapped. Christie was so traumatized she sustained a stroke even though she was only 8 years old. She hovered "as tentatively as a butterfly's wings" at death's door before the team of frantically working doctors brought her back from the abyss. Little Danny at only three years old was shot in the spine and will be paralyzed for life from the waist down, but the heroic efforts of the doctors saved his life.
Diane concocted a story of a bushy haired man who suddenly appeared in the street ahead of her car and demanded the car, then shot all three children, a tale that did not convince the police assigned to her case. Diane shot herself in the arm after shooting Cheryl, seven, Christie, eight, and Danny, three, at point blank range. Of course the invented story made no sense at all. Why would a gunman shoot three small children and not kill Diane who could identify him?
Diane wanted to get rid of the children because her married boyfriend Lew didn't want kids. The children, of course, are the "small sacrifices". A year after the shooting Diane was finally indicted and brought to trial. As always, Rule is a hands-on writer and she sat perhaps two feet from Diane during much of the trial. She can describe how Diane at one point along with the people in the courtroom was listening to "Hungry Like a Wolf" the song that had been playing in her car when Diane shot her children. Diane sat there at the side of her lawyer, merrily snapping her fingers and juggling her leg in time to the music, apparently oblivious she was on trial for murder.
While her little girl, Christie, who barely survived being shot in the chest twice, was on the witness stand the courtroom was eerily silent, hushed, almost frozen with horror. The little girl had one paralyzed arm and her speech was halting but she named her own mother as the shooter and the killer of her little sister. Up there on the witness stand she struggled with her emotions and practically everyone in the courtroom except Diane was in tears. Rule described Diane's strange yellow or green eyes and her inappropriate laughter. There is something extremely discordant about Diane Downs.
Rule delves deeply into the psyche of Diane Downs. Diane had lamented over her unhappy childhood and abuse by her father. But most children who are abused do not become killers. Diane is thought to have three serious personality disorders: narcissism, histrionic disorder and she's a sociopath. Like her soul mate Ted Bundy, she is always on stage and the center of that stage. She cares absolutely nothing about anybody, and her obsession with Lew, the married man she shot her children for, is just that: an obsession. Diane believes that people exist to serve her without her giving anything in return. She is and was an empty shell devoid of sympathy, empathy and love. The only love she is capable of is for herself and she has no conscience. Like all sociopaths, she's an accomplished liar. An empty shell.
Ann Rule keeps you reading her page -turner, gasping at the horror and you may even shed a tear or two over those children, wounded so long ago by their own mother. The evil in Diane is balanced by the good of people involved in the case: the doctors who struggled to save the childrens' lives, the detectives who labored on the case, the Slaven family who cared for the children during the trial, and especially the prosecuting attorney, Fred Hugi, who adopted Christie and Danny after Diane was convicted and sent to jail, brought them up with love and sent them to college. (Christie is now married and has a baby boy of her own. Danny, although in a wheelchair, is a cheerful, successful computer whiz).
Diane, Rule emphasizes, is not insane because a psychosis (insanity) can be treated by therapy and medication and can be reversed. There is hope for an insane person, but the sociopath will never change. He bears the mark of Cain which will brand him for life. You could almost say that the tattoo of a rose Diane has on her shoulder is the mark of Cain.