The last time we heard about Karla Faye Tucker, she was being executed; now, almost four years later, there's a new novel about her. Or about someone very like her. And Beverly Lowry's classic Crossed Over, a memoir about getting to know Karla Faye Tucker, gets a reissue.
Karla Faye Tucker: The Posthumous Literary News
The last time we heard about Karla Faye Tucker, she was being executed; now, almost four years later, there's a new novel about her. Or about someone very like her. Literary novelist Mary-Ann Tirone Smith (An American Killing) is coming to Adventures in Crime and Space on Wednesday, January 23, from 6-7:30pm, to talk about Love Her Madly (Holt, $25), her new detective mystery about the pending execution of Rona Leigh Glueck, an axe murderer who finds salvation behind bars. Smith's author bio indicates that "she has lived all of her life in Connecticut except for the two years she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon," but the Texas atmosphere just oozes out of Love Her Madly like blood escaping from a thick slab of Texas beef. The Houston where Rona Leigh did the deed is the decidedly seedy part of town, and Smith plays it for all it's worth. Then again, maybe that's because Love Her Madly stars one of those classically maladjusted investigators who like to steer themselves toward that part of town. These people tend to have names that would make you laugh out loud if you met them in person, if you felt certain they wouldn't hit you for reacting that way. Poppy Rice was a secondary character in An American Killing, and when I spoke with Smith about why a literary novelist was turning the Karla Faye Tucker case into a detective mystery, she said, "I think that series detective novels are looked down upon as a poor cousin. There are schlocky mystery series that you can read in three hours, and if that entertains you, that's wonderful. But I think there are also wonderful books that could be classified as mysteries -- The Name of the Rose, Presumed Innocent, Smilla's Sense of Snow. Mystery lovers, who come to bookstores like Adventures in Crime and Space, they're very bright people, and this is their form of entertainment. And the more substance you give them, the happier they all are." I'm not going to reveal the substance of Love Her Madly, but suffice it to say that although Smith may be taking from Karla Faye, her divergences from the factual record are entertaining, page-turning stuff.
It was a strange, but entirely coincidental, moment when Love Her Madly arrived at the Chronicle the same day as a box from Vintage containing the new reprint of Beverly Lowry's Crossed Over: A Murder, a Memoir ($13). Haunting, spare, redeeming, and gripping, Crossed Over is Lowry's account of what it was like to make friends with Karla Faye Tucker, a condemned killer, while trying to overcome the grief that consumed her after her son Peter was killed in an unsolved hit-and-run. Crossed Over remains one of the most memorable highlights of a genre that didn't flourish commercially until several years after it was published. Now it's out with a new foreword about the days leading up to Tucker's execution. Vintage was trying to time their publication with a TV movie called, appropriately enough, Crossed Over, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as Tucker and Diane Keaton as Lowry, but no one seems to know exactly when the movie's going to air. Lowry, who used to live in San Marcos and is the director of George Mason University's graduate program in creative nonfiction, was in town recently. She told me that when her agent called to tell her that she was Fed-Exing her a check, Lowry assumed it was because the production company interested in Crossed Over was renewing the option, but it was because the TV movie was actually in production. "And I said, 'So who's in it?' And she didn't know. Then she said, 'They say Diane Keaton and Juliette Lewis,'" who ended up not being cast. So Lowry called Larry McMurtry, who is a friend of both Diane Keaton's and Lowry's. "And I said, 'This is what I hear, that your friend is playing your friend in a movie. Check it out for me.' So he talked to her and got back to me and said, 'It's true.'" Lowry has seen the editor's cut and says the movie is "very powerful." "To me what it does is extend Karla's life because people forget," she says. "The way she's played in that movie, I don't think anybody could not be moved. [Jennifer Jason Leigh] is really something, she's the right combination of toughness and softness." Look here for news about when the movie will air.