Ann Rule's name is familiar to many who love true crime; she has
authored nineteen New York Times national bestsellers, including Last Dance,
Last Chance, A Rage to Kill and Lust Killer. She has worked as a
policewoman, is an advocate for victims of violent crime, and often
lectures to law enforcement personnel and the FBI. She obviously knows
her subject, has found her voice, and does an immense amount of
research. The detail and the number of people in Heart Full of
Lies, her latest book, are impressive.
This is the story of Liysa Northon, a mother of two boys and wife to a
third husband, Chris (whom she ultimately murders), a woman who is now residing
in the Oregon State Prison for a dozen more years. Liysa is an
attractive, creative, professional woman. The book chronicles her life,
her relationships with all three husbands and her two young boys,
and her quite successful career as a writer and photographer. She came
from a divorced family; she claimed to be abused by her mother, but
remains close to her father, a retired college president.
Chris Northon was an airline pilot for Hawaiian Airlines, well-liked
and considered easy-tempered. He was a physically tall and
powerful, handsome, popular man a few years Liysa's senior. He, like
Liysa, seemed to be a good, devoted parent, especially to his own son,
Bjorn. The couple had two homes -- one in Hawaii, the other in Oregon.
Life seemed good. Money was not a problem, and they had a great sex life.
But, as their marriage continued, Liysa became increasingly disenchanted
and unhappy with him, and began talking to her friends and her father
about how Chris abused her and was an alcoholic. Her stories grew in
their magnitude; most of her friends believed her. Finally, on a
camping trip with their youngest son in fall 2000, she (now thirty-eight years old) killed
Chris -- supposedly in self-defense -- and drove away.
Although the characters' personalities are probed in great detail, two
things still puzzle this reader. How did Liysa become so fantastical in
her thinking? Was it purely a ploy to inherit insurance money, or was
there validity to her stories of spousal abuse? Was she herself abused
as a child? How did Chris fool his family and his pilot friends if he
was indeed an abusive husband? Did something snap, or had he, too, been
abused as a child? Early childhood background would have helped this
reader know what to believe.
But this information may never have come out in the literature or in the
trial. Rule never met these people; she relied on reams and reams of
testimony, interviews, e-mails, and even anonymous tips. Although she
originally didn't want to believe that the woman had murdered her
husband (or that she had cause), she came to different conclusions
during her writing and investigations. She began to see her as a real
sociopath. However, she admits,
"My last four books have been about
women who were abused, killed or nearly killed by someone who promised
to love them and care for them, and I have long been a strong advocate
and contributor to domestic violence support groups. So I had to
struggle with my own preconceptions and prejudices as I began my
research. In the end, I found that I could not explain the gaping
inconsistencies in Liysa's recounting of her marriage and the way her
This is a good, suspenseful read. The writing is not brilliant -- it is
rather flatly journalistic. But the narrative is captivating. Liysa
remains in prison; her two sons are growing up in friends' care. She is
supposedly a model inmate, and she continues to try to reduce her
sentence. Although I still don't know what to believe about the
characters' motivations, I know the story is gripping and tragic.