Murder, torture, and sisterly love milked for all their potential melodrama.



A true story of three abused sisters who helped put their mother behind bars.

Nobody seemed to notice when a live-in babysitter vanished from the home of Dave and Shelly Knotek in tiny Raymond, Washington, in 1994. Then two more of the family’s boarders disappeared, and Shelly’s three daughters suspected the frightening truth: The couple had murdered the missing people. In his latest true-crime book, Olsen (Lying Next to Me, 2019, etc.) follows the half sisters, whose fears proved justified when—after the older two went to the police with the approval of the third—Shelly and Dave were arrested in 2003 and sent to prison for their roles in the deaths of babysitter Kathy Loreno and two others. It’s a grim tale, told in 85 short, James Patterson–esque chapters, leavened only by the sisters’ courage, strength, and love for one another. For years, Shelly inflicted sadistic abuses on her boarders and her daughters as Dave helped or stood by passively. Loreno was drugged, beaten, starved, and subjected to a crude form of waterboarding using a bucket and modified seesaw, and the Knoteks’ other victims endured similar cruelties. Olsen had access to the sisters, Dave Knotek, and a grandmother. Yet his overheated and repetitive prose robs the victims’ heart-rending stories of the high emotional impact they deserve. The three sisters are TV movie–ready tropes: Nikki, the strong-willed oldest; Sami, the accommodating middle child; and Tori, the baby who understood nothing until she understood everything. As for their mother, “Shelly was Cujo. Freddy Krueger. The freaky clown, Pennywise, from It.” For all its sordid details, the book never satisfactorily answers a question at its heart: In the sort of small town in which everyone tends to know everyone else’s business, how did the Knoteks’ horrific crimes go undetected for so long?

Murder, torture, and sisterly love milked for all their potential melodrama.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0522-7

Page Count: 428

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history...


A murder that transfixed the world and the invention that made possible the chase for its perpetrator combine in this fitfully thrilling real-life mystery.

Using the same formula that propelled Devil in the White City (2003), Larson pairs the story of a groundbreaking advance with a pulpy murder drama to limn the sociological particulars of its pre-WWI setting. While White City featured the Chicago World’s Fair and America’s first serial killer, this combines the fascinating case of Dr. Hawley Crippen with the much less gripping tale of Guglielmo Marconi’s invention of radio. (Larson draws out the twin narratives for a long while before showing how they intersect.) Undeniably brilliant, Marconi came to fame at a young age, during a time when scientific discoveries held mass appeal and were demonstrated before awed crowds with circus-like theatricality. Marconi’s radio sets, with their accompanying explosions of light and noise, were tailor-made for such showcases. By the early-20th century, however, the Italian was fighting with rival wireless companies to maintain his competitive edge. The event that would bring his invention back into the limelight was the first great crime story of the century. A mild-mannered doctor from Michigan who had married a tempestuously demanding actress and moved to London, Crippen became the eye of a media storm in 1910 when, after his wife’s “disappearance” (he had buried her body in the basement), he set off with a younger woman on an ocean-liner bound for America. The ship’s captain, who soon discerned the couple’s identity, updated Scotland Yard (and the world) on the ship’s progress—by wireless. The chase that ends this story makes up for some tedious early stretches regarding Marconi’s business struggles.

At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history lesson.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-8066-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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Smart hopes that sharing her story might help heal the scars of others, though the book is focused on what she suffered...


The inspirational and ultimately redemptive story of a teenage girl’s descent into hell, framed as a parable of faith.

The disappearance of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart in 2002 made national headlines, turning an entire country into a search party; it seemed like something of a miracle when she reappeared, rescued almost by happenstance, nine months later. As the author suggests, it was something of a mystery that her ordeal lasted that long, since there were many times when she was close to being discovered. Her captors, a self-proclaimed religious prophet whose sacraments included alcohol, pornography and promiscuous sex, and his wife and accomplice, jealous of this “second wife” he had taken, weren’t exactly criminal masterminds. In fact, his master plan was for similar kidnappings to give him seven wives in all, though Elizabeth’s abduction was the only successful one. She didn’t write her account for another nine years, at which point she had a more mature perspective on the ordeal, and with what one suspects was considerable assistance from co-author Stewart, who helps frame her story and fill in some gaps. Though the account thankfully spares readers the graphic details, Smart tells of the abuse and degradation she suffered, of the fear for her family’s safety that kept her from escaping and of the faith that fueled her determination to survive. “Anyone who suggests that I became a victim of Stockholm syndrome by developing any feelings of sympathy for my captors simply has no idea what was going on inside my head,” she writes. “I never once—not for a single moment—developed a shred of affection or empathy for either of them….The only thing there ever was was fear.”

Smart hopes that sharing her story might help heal the scars of others, though the book is focused on what she suffered rather than how she recovered.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-04015-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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