How one minister sowed heartbreak and homicide in a tiny community.
True-crime vet and novelist Olsen (Heart of Ice, 2009, etc.) follows Nick Hacheney, who was convicted in 2002 for killing his wife, Dawn, the day after Christmas 1997. That year Nick was a minister at Christ Community Church, an apostolic congregation on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, where he served as a youth pastor and marriage counselor. In the latter capacity he spent far more time with the wives than the husbands, growing close to Sandy Glass, who claimed to have visions from God about the fates of members of the church community. Such pronouncements were common at the church, whose lead pastor regularly led sessions in which congregants were browbeaten into confessing the smallest moral transgressions. (One woman was ostracized for allowing her children to view an Ace Ventura movie.) Yet not only did Nick evade suspicion for nearly four years after Dawn’s death—she was given an overdose of Benadryl and the house was set on fire—he also juggled relationships with no fewer than four parishioners, at one point drawing even Dawn’s mother into his web. What made Nick so attractive? Olsen, who conducted interviews with dozens of people involved, is surprisingly at a loss to explain. Indeed, he often stresses that this would-be lothario was a pudgy, ungainly man. The book is structured like a crime thriller, and though the author’s reporting on specific events is solid, his simplistic characterizations of the major players make the circumstances seem just as baffling by the book’s end as its beginning. The squabbling between a long-term pastor and a newcomer is pitted as a battle between a milquetoast and a holy roller; the women Nick seduced and victimized are described nearly interchangeably, with little color outside their roles as mothers, wives and Nick’s toys. Using original documents doesn’t help. As pious churchgoers, their letters, e-mails and diary entries are filled with clichéd pieties. Olsen’s prose too often fails to improve on it.
A sordid but strangely bland tale of cold-bloodedness.