A true-crime tale with all the classic ingredients: adultery, murder, and lies.
The title may be off-putting to Marines, who dislike being called soldiers, but Marines are at the center of this story, set on and near the military reservation at Twentynine Palms, California. There in 2014, a young Marine wife, 19 and pregnant, disappeared. Phoenix-based crime writer Hogan (The Stranger She Loved: A Mormon Doctor, His Beautiful Wife, and an Almost Perfect Murder, 2015, etc.) begins at the end—at one end, anyway, with the discovery of Erin Corwin’s body at the bottom of a mine shaft tucked away in the Joshua tree–studded mountains near the base. That end was not pretty, and the author lays it on thick: “Gawking at the body, it was almost impossible for Wheaton to imagine the ghastly cadaver was once a beautiful, living person.” The cadaver was ghastly because it was there long enough to decompose, the search having taken many weeks. Then, the clues began to mount, and the trails finally led to a next-door neighbor who just happened to have had an affair with the young woman intimate enough that the paternity was in doubt. Still, while Erin’s forgiving husband was searching the internet for inspiration on baby names, the neighbor was conducting his own searches for ways to make corpses disappear—as, clearly, he didn’t succeed in doing. He finally confessed and is now imprisoned. For all its devastating effects, the case was ordinary enough that Hogan’s by-the-numbers narrative barely stands up to book length. It lacks the context and depth of Deanne Stillman’s much superior books Twentynine Palms and Desert Reckoning, and the writing is consistently lackluster: “Both Chris and Erin were infatuated with the excitement of the new relationship”; “Still, somehow the verdict seemed hollow. It didn’t change anything. Erin was still dead.”
A tragic, deeply unpleasant story in need of more nuanced treatment to distinguish it from all the other nastiness afloat in the world.