The Heart To Kill



…after a trying day to find two telephone messages. The first informs her that she has not been chosen for a coveted summer internship, a position for which her father had arranged an interview. The second is from her mother, with the news that Sarah’s best friend in high school, JoBeth Ruland has murdered her own son and daughter. To mislead her father about her failure to be chosen as a recipient of the internship, Sarah decides to secure a position on JoBeth’s defense team. Against her father’s vehement protest, she leaves Evanston, Illinois at the end of the term and returns to Eight Mile Junction, South Carolina, a small town in the Appalachian foothills, determined to convince him that the experience will contribute to her future.

To make the best of the situation, Sarah sets out to become a vital member of the defense team and to regain favor with her father. But she is not well-prepared for the shock of leaving her sheltered academic life and working in a community rife with chauvinism, malice, and betrayal. Her struggle is met with the benevolent amusement of the senior law partner, John-Two who, despite her objection, insists on calling her “Little Lady.” The criminal trial expert on the team, Al, a tense, disciplined young attorney, resents the intrusion of what he believes to be a know-nothing law student, and treats Sarah as if she is incompetent. The folks of Eight Mile Junction close ranks in the face of Sarah’s inquiries, hiding the town’s complicity in JoBeth’s degradation from the eyes of “outsiders” by finding her guilty before the trial begins. And finally, her father, on whose judgment Sarah has relied her entire life, rejects her efforts to placate his ill-humored response to her decision that summer.

In the end, Sarah discovers the underlying issues that precipitated her friend’s murderous act. Through interviews with JoBeth, her mother, her former lover, and her work associates, her ex-husband’s mistress as well as the testimony given during the trial, the horrifying events that shaped JoBeth’s life are revealed, helping Sarah understand how a person can be driven to extremes that defy ordinary reasoning. Sarah and her friend, it is the betrayal by those they love and believe in that changes their lives forever. Ultimately, it means disgrace and imprisonment for JoBeth. But for Sarah, who decides against returning to law school, it is the beginning of a life in which she, not her father, manages her future.

Page turner and one that will keep you up all night reading? A remarkable read!

Peggy's Reviews
Tour 8 Mile Junction
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8 Mile Junction

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Al, the criminal trial expert, invited Sarah to his place to have dinner and go over her change of venue report.  From Columbia, he was renting in a Mount Vernon style house that had been divided into four apartments. “What’s for dinner?” she asked.  “Mac and cheese,” he called out though the beaded curtain that separated the kitchen from the rest of the apartment. She suppressed a laugh. “That your specialty?” she asked.


The quiet stateliness of the building reminded Sarah of law school and restored her confidence that there might be some justice for JoBeth. Maybe the golf course business was nothing to worry about. She hoped so, because once the trial started, Eight Mile Junction would be turned into a stage for a grand media event. The memory of JoBeth as a young girl and her love for her children would be pushed aside, leaving only the image of the monster who killed them.

Ruland Household

When Sarah interviewed JoBeth’s mother, Vera Ruland met her at the door, opening it before the bell rang. She wore a red and blue geometric-patterned caftan with a red floor-length sleeveless over-cloak, and was smoking a cigarette plugged into a charcoal filter. It was balanced between her middle and forefinger and held slightly above her shoulder. She might have been recreating a pose she had seen in a 1930’s movie.

Mrs. Weeber's House

At Mrs. Weeber’s luncheon, Ceily commented on the murders. “Well, I hope those lawyers of hers don’t say she’s crazy. If they do, they’ll send JoBeth off to one of those mental hospitals downstate and she’ll never be punished."

Gladys' Hair Shop

Sarah passed Gladys' Hair Shop where she and JoBeth had had their hair done for graduation. The interior was exactly as it had been that day. The hair dryers were hunched over the same chairs that sprouted spidery legs, dozens of fashion magazines lay scattered about the tables, and the floor was littered with bunches of hair. The chairs where they had sat were still in place, facing the same mirrored walls stenciled with now fading lilies and ferns. Gladys, her henna-dyed hair tied up in a bright orange scarf, was still doing her best to create beauty.

Williams Law Firm

John-Two called Janet, the receptionist over the intercom. She walked into the room, smiled at Sarah, and handed John-Two some papers. He quickly signed them. His signature looked like a long line with the Roman numeral two at the end. “Fax them right away,” he said. “And Janet, fix up the corner of the library as an office for the young lady. Get her a desk lamp. You know, everything she needs to work in there. And oh yes, I don’t think she knows how to make coffee.” He winked at Sarah.

Wasser Household

On Sarah’s return to Eight Mile Junction, she found that everything in her bedroom remained exactly as she had left it. Raggedy Ann and Andy rested hand-in-hand on the bed, Grandmother Solonsky’s wedding picture stood on the dresser in its silver frame with lilies trumpeting from its four corners, her high school graduation honor ribbons hung from the curtain valance, and the sheepskin rug her uncle had sent from New Zealand waited to caress her feet each morning. The room, like her mother, continually awaited her return.

Channing Hollow

At the end of her interview with Dora Channing, Sarah said, “Just one more thing. Why do you think JoBeth murdered her children?”
“Never know what goes on in a person’s mind until they do something, do you?” Dora turned to go, then stopped. “If you ask me, that girl was pulled apart and couldn’t find no way to get her herself back together. My granddaddy used to say that if you kick a dog long enough, it’s gonna turn around and bite somebody.”

Fenton Lake

But still, she couldn’t believe JoBeth had intentionally come to Fenton Lake to murder her children.  The scene was so bucolic. Surely, if a murder had been committed here, there would be something different about the place. She tried to conjure up a mental picture of JoBeth standing, watching the car roll into the water, knowing that her children were going to drown, but her mind rebelled.  It seemed more like a bad joke than something that actually happened.