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Book Review of: Fatal Vows

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Review of Fatal Vows, by Joseph Hosey (Hardcover, 2008)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This story is a chilling account of a suspected serial killer who lives in Illinois. Unfortunately, it's a true story. The story is chilling not because of how it's told (which is, by the way, superbly done), but because of the insights Hosey provides into the thoughts and behavior of the main character, Drew Peterson. While Hosey goes to great lengths to provide a balanced viewpoint, there's simply no hiding the fact that Drew Peterson is one sick man and very likely the man who killed two of his four wives.

I'm originally from Illinois and am quite familiar with its "Save the Criminals" (as opposed to Save the Whales) programs, which seek to protect criminals from their victims rather than the other way around. These whacko laws are why, for example, the south side of Chicago is so dangerous. And these whacko laws have made no minor contribution to the Illinois careers of famous killers, such as John Wayne Gacy. It did not surprise me in the least that this drama took place in Illinois.

I stopped watching television in 1990, breaking that pattern only on September 11, 2001 for obvious reasons. Not wishing to be disinformed, I don't read newspapers. So, this book was my first exposure to this case and to several other cases mentioned in the book. That means I didn't come at this with any pre-existing ideas about the case.

One of my favorite authors is Ann Rule, who covers similar topics in a similar way. She's also a favorite among a small group of people with whom I have detailed discussions about "what we're reading now." When I first heard of Hosey's book, my thought was that I'd need to cut him some slack and not hold him up to Ann Rule as the standard by which to review his book.

As it turns out, Hosey holds his own. His style differs from that of Rule, both are gifted writers who create page-turners and leave their personal agendas out of the book. Anyone on Rule's level is worth reading, regardless of the subject. Hosey is there. Even better, it's a fascinating subject.

Typically, a book that addresses a current event takes on the mantle of a debate paper that is all about proving the author's conclusions. You see this pattern in books on the Iraq War, global warming, religious topics, and health-related topics. It's one-sided, and to me it's a waste of paper for that reason. It's just not intellectually honest. Fatal Vows doesn't follow that pattern, however, and even the wording is carefully chosen to avoid manipulating the reader. Kudos to Hosey for accomplishing this, despite the obvious conclusions the evidence brings.

What it's missing

Oddly, this book doesn't have a Table of Contents. Nor does it have an index. So, going back through it later for reference purposes is not easy. These two features should be in any nonfiction book. While Hosey writes in the manner of a good novelist, he did not write a novel so these features should be in his book.

It's also missing backnotes, footnotes, bibliography, and a list of references. So, we have little to tell us whether the book is accurate, how well-researched it is, or where he got his information. In the text of the book, however, he discusses his sources. The references are embedded in the narrative, so we know he had several. Most of his sources were people, not published works, so maybe we can overlook the lack of a list of these. The names of the people do appear in the acknowledgements area.

Fortunately, the book is also missing internal inconsistencies. This adds to its credibility, because even well-researched books sometimes have internal inconsistencies and the reader must sort those out to arrive at the truth. Hosey seems to be "straight up" throughout the book.


There are nearly two dozen color photographs in the book. All of them have solid captions, so you know what you're looking at (and, in some cases, what it really means). And obviously, Hosey needed sources for these photos. Some photos are of people who have been missing before Hosey came on the scene.


The typical nonfiction book consists of 10 chapters. This book consists of 13. Probably, Hosey chose the number 13 intentionally. When you read about what Peterson's wives went through, that choice makes perfect sense.

There's also a prologue, epilogue, postscript, and the acknowledgements.

After the riveting prologue, the first two chapters give us background information on Stacy Cales, who was Peterson's fourth wife. It's interesting to note here that she was 17 when he began pursuing her, and he married her when she was 19. The age difference between them is about 30 years. Stacy had already given birth to their first child before Peterson's third wife Kathleen was found dead in her bathtub.

Chapters 3 and 4 provide the backstory on what went on with Drew and Kathleen, leading up to her death. These two chapters sow the seeds of doubt for the official explanation, which is debunked in a later chapter.

It's worth noting here that Kathleen was beautiful on her wedding day but by the time of her death she was about 40 lbs overweight while Stacy was a beanpole at the time. Hosey gives Kathleen's height and weight, but doesn't make the direct comparison. However, the facts just jump out at the reader and it's hard not to conclude that Drew views women as appliances rather than as people. For more on this mentality, read The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family or Jackie Ethel Joan: Women of Camelot. Shortly before Stacy's death, she underwent significant cosmetic surgery including breast implants and liposuction.

The next seven chapters really dig into the Stacy Peterson story. In the process, we get a look at both the public and private personas of Drew Peterson. What you see there is shocking. This man has the conscience of an IRS agent.

Chapter 13 wraps everything up by exploring the question of whether Drew Peterson will ever be arrested for the murder of his fourth wife, whose body hasn't been found. It also looks at the question of whether he will ever be arrested for the murder of his third wife, following the completely botched investigation into her murder. People who work in law enforcement have gotten away with murder (recall the three murders on Ruby Ridge by FBI agents), and here we get a glimpse into why that happens.

Drew Peterson has admitted his guilt through his behavior while being careful not to give an actual confession--this is clear in the book and several experts have said as much. But it looks like Drew Peterson will get away with it. Our normal legal channels exist to prevent vigilante justice and to ensure that the accused have a fair trial. The downside is that not every criminal is stopped.

Will our legal system ultimately bring this killer to justice? That didn't happen with O.J., but perhaps in time it will happen with Drew Peterson. Will the people of Illinois force a repeal of the "Save the Criminals" laws in light of this case? Probably not. The same factors that cause things to be wrong in the first place tend to keep them that way. Besides, this book wasn't intended as a "change the system" work. It was meant to give us an inside look at two of today's unsolved murders. On that count, it has succeeded.

It's a great read, and it provides something very interesting to talk about. The murders themselves can be scintillating table talk, but so can the surrounding issues such as some mentioned in this review. Put this on your "must read" list, but don't keep it there for long!



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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