A Slaying in the Suburbs: the Tara Grant Murder, Steve Miller and Andrea Billups, Berkley True Crime, $7.99.
"If murder turns the world against the perpetrator, dismemberment casts them into a whole other category, that of a macabre sicko."
This fast paced, well structured book will have you glued to the page no matter how familiar you may be with the Tara Grant case (and if you live in Michigan, that's probably very familiar). Like the best true crime writers, Miller and Billups place their characters in context, detailing their personalities and giving depth to the story that's more shallowly covered on the news and in the newspapers. In a nutshell, Steven and Tara Grant appeared to the outside world to be the "perfect" couple - two kids, a dog, an au pair, a nice house in the suburbs. Tara was attractive and vivacious, and Steven is also attractive and up until the murder of his wife an apparently devoted father and husband. Of course as any reader of true crime (or mystery) knows, a perfect family is rarely visited by the kind of carnage Steve Grant brought into his own home.
One of the more lurid murder cases of recent years, the circumstances of Tara Grant's disappearance and death were so horrifying they caught national attention. Like Lacey Peterson before her, Tara's apparently devoted husband reported her missing - four days after she vanished. Of course since he had actually killed her and cut up her body, he knew she wasn't coming back, but he set the scene with increasingly "desperate" calls to his wife's cell phone demanding to know where she was. The story he tells the au pair - who he is having an affair with - is one he seems to try and believe himself, somehow casting the crime as Tara's fault.
Were this book to have been written by Ann Rule, I don't think any of Tara's personality flaws would have made it onto the page, but as Miller and Billups delineate Tara and Steve, neither of them are perfect. Despite that fact, of course, no one deserves the fate that Tara received at the hands of her husband and father of her children. Steve, though, is the more fleshed out of the two (Tara's family declined to cooperate with the authors on the book), probably because the authors were able to get jail house interviews with him. They are able to fill out his personality and almost explain why he might have snapped as he did, but I found myself longing, at the end of the book, for some transcripts of their interviews with Grant, which I imagine were extensive.
Jamie and I both feel that any true crime book that spends too much time on the trial is a more slap dash type effort, and this one happily devotes very little time to the trial, the suspense of which only lies in the degree of murder Steve would eventually be charged with. This is an excellent read that will give you a good insight into one of our more notorious local events, as well as a penetrating look inside a marriage. The moral of the book may be that marriage is never easy.
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