Thanks to the fine-toothed-comb reporting of ace crime journalist Bledsoe (Blood Games, 1991, etc.), there's no mistaking for fiction this seemingly incredible tale of sex, greed, and murder. An emergency team responds to a 911 call on a quiet, residential street in Durham, NC. It seems that high school coach Russ Stager was accidentally shot and killed when his wife, Barbara, set off the pistol he kept under his pillow. But a dogged detective's investigation slowly reveals the apple-pie family's accident was really a coldblooded murder for money—and not Barbara's first. Flashing back to her first marriage in another North Carolina county, Bledsoe builds the portrait of a suburban southern perfectionist who, when bored with daily conjugal life, goes shopping for expensive clothes, luxury cars, and extramarital affairs. When the debts mount up, Barbara gets a gun. In the middle of the night, her husband (and father of her two sons), Larry Ford, is shot. The physical evidence doesn't support an accident, but it's an election year, and due to political considerations within the police department, the one suspicious detective and his investigation are given the heave-ho. With over $70,000 in life insurance claims in hand, Barbara moves to Durham with a new lease on the good life. Ten years later, her second husband's ``accidental'' shooting—also in the night and also preceded by mounting debts and adultery—leads to her first-degree murder conviction and death sentence. Bledsoe masterfully weaves together the two murders, their investigations, and Barbara Stager's trial. He even maintains suspense when there's no longer any question of whodunit or why. If this fact-packed tale reads a bit like a TV docudrama—the kind you can't turn off, even though you know the ending—it's probably because it's scheduled to be a four-hour CBS miniseries.
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