Friday, February 17, 2012

Compass in the Blood by William E. Coles Jr.

Ambitious college freshman Dee has written a prize winning essay about the strange case of Katherine Soffel, a wife and mother who, at the turn of the century, apparently fell in love with one of the convicts in the prison where her husband was warden and who helped him and his brother escape only to be gunned down. Dee has questions about the case and when she gets an opportunity from a known tv journalist to possibly locate Soffel's diary, she jumps at it. But suddenly Dee finds herself out of her depth. Dead end after dead end keep presenting themselves on the quest for the diary location and Dee finds herself questioning her idol's ethics as well. Suddenly the case looks a lot murkier than even Dee originally imagined.

Genre: historical, suspense

Rating: 4/5

This books was as much about how research is done as it was about the admittedly interesting case of Katherine Soffel. There are a lot of strange aspects to the actual case which the author handily draws on to make his own argument that there was something more than the newspapers presented in the original events. Dee is an intelligent girl and she finds herself torn in finding what she wants by unscrupulous means like her mentor Harry, or whether there is a line of ethics to be drawn, even for the dead. Dee and her friends are believable, even if Dee's boyfriend is a bit of an anomaly for this type of book and his plot line seemed forced in. There was enough going on without his artwork becoming a plot thread that really didn't seem to go anywhere.

The case itself is fascinating. Why would a woman risk her life for a man then both of them deny having a relationship? Why would the escape attempt have been so odd? Why would her husband have acted in such a strange manner? The newspapers had a free hand in painting Soffel as a vampire woman who had obscene desires, but the information doesn't seem to add up. The main flaw of the book is that it can't give a solid answer. The group stops short of reading the actual diary, leaving the ending open to interpretation.

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