February 13, 2011

Book Review: IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT: THE STRANGE DEATH OF RONDA REYNOLDS AND HER MOTHER'S UNCEASING QUEST FOR THE TRUTH by Ann Rule

BOOK DESCRIPTION:  FROM TRUE-CRIME LEGEND ANN RULE comes this riveting story of a young woman whose life ended too soon—and a determined mother’s eleven-year crusade to clear her daughter’s name.

It was nine days before Christmas 1998, and thirty-two-year-old Ronda Reynolds was getting ready to travel from Seattle to Spokane to visit her mother and brother and grandmother before the holidays. Ronda’s second marriage was dissolving after less than a year, her career as a pioneering female Washington State Trooper had ended, but she was optimistic about starting over again. "I’m actually looking forward to getting on with my life," she told her mother earlier the night before. "I just need a few days with you guys." Barb Thompson, Ronda’s mother, who had met her daughter’s second husband only once before, was just happy that Ronda was coming home.

At 6:20 that morning, Ron Reynolds called 911 and told the dispatcher his wife was dead. She had committed suicide, he said, although he hadn’t heard the gunshot and he didn’t know if she had a pulse. EMTs arrived, detectives arrived, the coroner’s deputy arrived, and a postmortem was conducted. Lewis County Coroner Terry Wilson, who neither visited the death scene nor attended the autopsy, declared the manner of Ronda’s death as "undetermined." Over the next eleven years, Coroner Wilson would change that manner of death from "undetermined" to "suicide," back to "undetermined"—and then back to "suicide" again.

But Barb Thompson never for one moment believed her daughter committed suicide. Neither did Detective Jerry Berry or ballistics expert Marty Hayes or attorney Royce Ferguson or dozens of Ronda’s friends. For eleven grueling years, through the ups and downs of the legal system and its endless delays, these people and others helped Barb Thompson fight to strike that painful word from her daughter’s death certificate.

On November 9, 2009, a precedent-setting hearing was held to determine whether Coroner Wilson’s office had been derelict in its duty in investigating the death of Ronda Reynolds. Veteran true-crime writer Ann Rule was present at that hearing, hoping to unbraid the tangled strands of conflicting statements and mishandled evidence and present all sides of this haunting case and to determine, perhaps, what happened to Ronda Reynolds, in the chill still of that tragic December night.

I am an avid reader of Ann Rule's books and eagerly await each of her new releases.  Because I am such a fan of Ms. Rule I can always find positives even if those books that are not my favorites of hers.    In the Still of the Night was no different. 

From a novice writer In the Still of the Night would be a passably good true crime selection.  From Ann Rule, author of the flawless Small Sacrifices, Stranger Beside Me and her True Crimes Files series,among others, it's a bit of a disappointment.  For one, I felt that the story was simply not strong enough to be a stand alone book and would have been better served being the central, title story of a True Crime Files volume.  The sheer number of pages from being a stand alone book (over 400 pages) made the story feel a bit slow paced and slightly bogged down; compared to being an entry in a True Crime Files volume, where it would clock in at least half the number of pages. 

My biggest letdown with In the Still of the Night was the unresolved conclusion.  When I read true crime, and I invest my time and energy reading the story and getting to know the victim(s), I want to have closure in my mind that the victim(s) and families have justice.  There is no such resolution in this book.  It is through no fault of Ms. Rule's and she does lay out a substantial list of possible suspects at the conclusion of the book, as well as a reward for further information on Ronda Reynolds' death, but the unfinished business surrounding Ronda Reynolds' death makes me feel that perhaps this particular crime, or alleged crime, may not have been the best subject for a book.

On the upside, Ms. Rule became personally acquainted and involved with Ronda Reynolds' family and it shows in the pages of the book.  I felt as though I grew to know her tenacious mother, Barb Thompson,  as I flipped the pages and this admirable woman is to be admired.  She does the memory of her daughter proud and I felt her heartache and pain as strongly as if they were my own. 

I also believed that Ms. Rule did well in writing former police officer turned private investigator Jerry Berry, expert Marty Hughes and longtime friend to Ronda Reynolds David Bell.  These were all people to be admired and they were more than just names in the book. 

I do hope that In the Still of the Night creates a very belated proper investigation into what I too consider to be a questionable death, giving Ronda Reynolds justice and her family and friends the peace and closure they deserve. 

In the Still of the Night: The Strange Death of Ronda Reynolds and Her Mother's Unceasing Quest for the Truth is available for purchase at major booksellers, including Amazon.  I am an Amazon affiliate. If you make a purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission.

For more information on author Ann Rule, please visit her website

FTC Disclosure: This book was borrowed from my local public library. I was neither compensated nor paid in any way for this review.

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