There's something fascinating about reading true crime novels. Whether it's the dark and seedy underworld to be glimpsed, or the allure of watching a crime and its solution unfold, these books are like the cookie dough of the literary world: They aren't good for you, and have no nutritional value, but damn if you just can't stop consuming them.
Such is the case with Nancy Whitmore Poore's Deadly Confidante (Book Publishers Network, 2005). This account of the notorious Robin Row triple murder case is especially interesting for local readers, as the events recounted in the book took place in Boise. Row is, of course, the first and only woman on death row in the state of Idaho. She was convicted in March of 1993 on three counts of first degree murder and aggravated arson in the 1992 deaths of her husband, Randy Row, and two children, Joshua and Tabitha Cornellier. It was proven that she set the fire that burned her southwest Boise duplex with her family inside.
Poore's work is extensively researched, and the author has taken great care to tell the story of Row's closest friend at the time of the murders, Joan McHugh. We watch in pity as McHugh goes from staunch defender of Row to the disbelief and horror of realizing that her friend is not what she thinks she is. Poore has gone to great lengths to uncover Row's background, whose past includes the suspicious deaths of two of her previous children. She tracks a slew of relationships in which people pity her, take her in, are taken by her, and are finally shown to have been taken for a ride by her sociopathic tendencies.
Deadly Confidante is painful reading at times, akin to having to re-live all of the misadventures of a loser relative that keeps being "helped" by various family members who are constantly fooled by their hard-knock stories. It's hard to see here how folks try to do the right thing, only to be ripped off. We are led through Row's arrival in Boise and the opportunities given to her by the YWCA, including a position running a Bingo game at the Hillcrest Center from which she embezzles money.
Poore does a solid job of following the police investigation that results in McHugh trapping her friend in statements that help prove Row's guilt.
At the center of the story is a tragedy: the loss of three lives in hideous circumstances. The book delivers on its provocative subtitle of "Arson--Betrayal--Embezzlement ... Murder." It is a lengthy report of the events, given some substance by Poore's care in telling the story from the perspective of the people closest to it. Her concern for accurately representing those who told her their stories is admirable, and allows the book to rise above a typical work of the genre.