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Every Breath needs oxygen

• Latest from true crime queen Rule chokes on detail

Few murders are as poignant as Sheila Bellush's.

Nine years after divorcing abusive husband Allen Blackthorne but still desperately afraid of him, the remarried,

100-pound mother of 2-year-old quadruplets was at her Florida home alone with her children when a panicky amateur hit man in a ski mask attacked her.

Shot in the face and savagely stabbed, Bellush fought back, even managing to get the phone off the hook before she collapsed and died. Her crying toddlers were huddled together in the hallway, smeared with her dried blood, when her 13-year-old daughter by Blackthorne arrived home.

With a story like that, it's hard to imagine how any writer, let alone Ann Rule, could fail to keep readers breathless until the end. Unfortunately, Rule's 446-page account of Bellush's life and death, named for the Sting song 'Every Breath You Take,' isn't so much breathless as wheezing.

It gets off to a good start. An author's note explains that Rule wrote the book at the request of the victim's sister, whom Bellush chillingly implored to contact Rule 'if anything ever happens to me.'

The first chapter sets a moody, edgy stage for the full account of the murder that appears much later in the book.

But 'Every Breath You Take: A True Story of Obsession, Revenge, and Murder' bogs down almost immediately. By Chapter Two, Rule has begun an overly detailed recounting of Bellush's and Blackthorne's family histories that reads like a cross between the 'begats' chapters of the Bible and an amateurish, gossipy family memoir.

The tedious detail doesn't let up. In fact, New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin writes that 'Every Breath' has 'an avalanche of the kinds of squirrelly details that give Ms. Rule's books their tabloid flavor.'

It doesn't help that the detail-stuffed paragraphs frequently don't follow each other in any kind of logical sequence.

Different line for Rule

'Every Breath' doesn't suffer from some of Rule's usual writer's tics. Although she indulges in her habit of explaining away every fact that might reflect negatively on the female victim, she's not as obviously infatuated with this case's investigators and prosecutors as she was in such earlier books as 'Small Sacrifices.' This may be because the Bellush case ultimately involved four defendants Ñ including Blackthorne and the hit man Ñ and multiple jurisdictions.

Or maybe she, like the reader, is simply tired of the story by the time Blackthorne goes to trial.

The bottom line is that Rule's latest is more tedious than thrilling. Even her die-hard fans would do better to reread one of her earlier books while they wait for the inevitable Ñ and hopefully more engaging Ñ 'Every Breath' miniseries.

Contact Janine Robben at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .