IT'S A NICE TOUCH that Ann Rule's publisher refers to the author as "a former Seattle policewoman" on the dust jacket of her new book (despite the fact that Rule's police career was quite short-lived). Besides making her one of our city's own, the phrase lends validation: This true-crime writer once cuffed 'em herself.

But even if she hadn't worn blue, Rule still would be entitled to -- in fact, she was clearly born to -- write prose about the mysterious violence and possessiveness that can cocoon the human heart. With the straightforward, colloquial language and brilliant pacing that is her trademark, Rule not only entertains in ...And Never Let Her Go, but urges us to reflect that we are both the same as and different from the weirdo sociopaths who enter the howling, irreversible territory of possessiveness gone to murder.

As in her earlier crime account set in Portland, Small Sacrifices, this new book, which some critics are calling her best, again presents a fascinating tale of operatic proportions acted out in a small, pragmatic American village. Among the players there are melanges of confusion surrounding love, or "love," as we all experience it from time to time. As in the best novels of crime, anger, and disintegration, as well in our everyday lives, love is an irrational trip-switch, an indelible worm that's linked to suffering, an excuse for cruelty, and (sometimes) is inseparable from cruelty. Such scenarios are common (just listen in on random conversations at Ileen's for proof) but Rule's writing makes us wonder what separates the minidramas of our lives from the more pathological cases, such as the awful one that involved Tom Capano and Anne Marie Fahey.

Five years ago in Wilmington, Delaware, the successful, charming lawyer Capano found two people -- women -- who quietly accepted his manically controlling behavior as part of the price of loving and having him. His possessiveness and jealousy escalated, and when one of the women, Fahey, tried to break off their affair, he murdered her. Capano, who seems to live in a narcissistic dream world that grew along with his temper and propensity for violence, has never confessed to the killing, and was sentenced to death.

Rule plainly suggests that some people (in this story, the women) learn from childhood that in order to be loved, they must acquiesce to others even beyond reasonable bounds. Capano was the type to take special advantage of this. But in a haunting, oblique way ...And Never Let Her Go is about all of us; for who has not, at some point in life, bowed to the will of someone we believe we must obey?

With agility, Rule layers the tale. It's not only about power struggles, or Capano and his lover-girls (the two did not know of each other). It's also about a long moment in Western/American culture, a moment when neighbors are politely distant, not deeply connected in community; a time when economic shame causes women to class-climb by dating rich men, and a time when women still feel they must defer to men.

With enveloping minutia of Capano and Fahey's relationship Rule details how the slight imbalances that occur in every relationship, in this case, grew to become monstrous. She sheds light on how a powerful person can feel immune to penalty -- Capano was intimately connected with Delaware's political scaffolding and the networks of power that typically run, as in any state, from the governor's and attorney general's offices down to the police force. The portrait of Capano, comprised of interviews and research, is vivid and satisfying: Not objective, yet unhateful, it's most interested in showing the reader the psyche of a lawyer who had a secret immoral doppelgänger.

Rule also evokes a strong sense of place. Her multitude of keenly heard quotes capture the flat-sounding Yankee-American speech particular to the Delaware region and this story's conservative players, most of them state government workers whose speech is the most concrete, pragmatic, and bureaucratic possible. This regional speech-capturing technique, great fun in itself, also sheds light on a large swathe of mainstream American population and its manners: a culture that's hard-working, religious, tender about family, and reverent about the propriety that propels both the traditional family and the country's infrastructure.

Jeep Cherokees, condos, and Holiday Inns abound here. Although, sentence by sentence, Rule is not a particularly good writer (sentences are flaccid and rife with clichés), she fully characterizes this chilly Delaware world with its nearby omnivorous gray Atlantic, and makes the Capano-Fahey relationship, its burden for Fahey, and its aftermath so vivid that it's difficult to put the book down.

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