Review: Wicked Takes The Witness Stand by Mardi Link

Add it to your reading list...now!
Add it to your reading list…now!

Disclaimer, I know Mardi Link and we have had books published by the same publisher (The University of Michigan Press).  I asked to review this book independently – and Mardi didn’t influence it in the least. 

I am a big Mardi Link fan.  Mardi and I both write about true crimes, in Michigan.  We also both tend to focus on crimes that remain unsolved.  I read her book, When Evil Came to Good Hart, annually.  When we both spoke together (along with David Schock) at the Michigan Historical Society Meeting on True Crime – I found out she had a new book out. Needless to say I jumped at a chance to read it.

Like most good true crime books, this one starts with a crime, a murder, in Gaylord Michigan in 1986. Almost immediately you begin to wonder, “Did a crime take place here or merely a tragic death?”  Of course by the time you start asking yourself this question, you realize that Mardi has sucked you into this bizarre case.

This is not like your traditional true crime book.  What starts out as an alleged murder becomes a tale of the drug trade in Gaylord Michigan and of people sucked into this investigation. It is a story of a prosecutor gone-amok.  Justice, apparently is not only blind, but obsessed.  Not just one person becomes convicted of this crime, but several are drawn in.  The death, it is claimed, was a conspiracy in this small town in Michigan’s hinterlands.  Link seductively draws you in, just like the prosecutor was.  The murder, if it was a murder, seems not only plausible but probable.

Then doubt creeps in.  The star witness, Debbie Parmentier, erodes on the pages as you read.  Rather than being the link that ties all of these convicts into a conspiracy, she emerges as a pathological liar.  The prosecutor, when confronted with this, does not take the high-road, but rather entrenches.  Even the police seem to defend Ms. Parmentier, while it becomes clear.

What begins as a murder mystery becomes an intense court drama as a band of defense attorney’s join together to attempt to undo justice gone-wild.  Interwoven into this case is the twisted mind and imagination of Debbie Parmentier, a destroyer of lives with a complete lack of a moral compass.

I’m a tad jealous of Mardi’s writing skills.  Her prose and storytelling takes what would be a highly complex case and makes it fully digestible.  This was one of those books that is hard to put down.  She weaves a story where judicial system itself is put on trial.  More importantly, she leaves us all wondering how many miscarriages of justice are out there; and worrying how many Debbie Parmentier’s lurk in the shadows ready to destroy people’s lives for the thrill of 15 minutes of fame.  Links book is a fantastic mirror of our own instant gratification society and the ramifications of that in human terms.

As a true crime author I am staggered by the amount of research this requires.  This is not a single murder trial, it is several, all mashed into one.  Trust me, you have no idea how much material you have to wade through in writing about a crime.  This one had multiple appeals, multiple lawyers, complex jurisdictions, and (I’m willing to bet) a less-than-cooperative prosecutor’s office and police agency.  While you as a reader will never understand or appreciate what Ms. Link had to do to write this book, I bow in deep respect at her even taking on this case.

My rating – simply – five out of five.  The title of this book is dead-on perfect.  It’s not your normal true crime fare. It is something different, something new.  Gaylord represents small towns anywhere…this is not just a Michigan true crime book.  Pick this up and prepare to have your perspectives challenged on every crime you read about in the press.

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