A BITTER BREW: Faith, Power, and Poison in a Small New England Town

Christine Ellen Young, Author . Berkley $19.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-425-20042-1

On an April Sunday in 2003, 16 people became ill, and one died, after congregants at Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in New Sweden, Maine (population 621), sipped coffee laced with arsenic. Five days after the poisoning, Daniel Bondeson, a longtime church member, shot himself to death, leaving a note admitting to the crime and stating that he had acted alone. In this workmanlike true-crime account, Young, a TV reporter who earned the trust of some residents of this insular town, focuses on why this confession only increased speculation, fueled, she charges, by unsubstantiated police statements about a larger conspiracy. Many locals suspected Bondeson's sister, Norma, of being the ringleader. Young finds that Norma, who grew up near New Sweden, was viewed as an outsider for having lived away for years; further, her "feisty and opinionated" manner had alienated many congregants. Young illuminates the congregation's strong Swedish roots, as well as its ugly infighting. She concludes (though she was unable to interview Norma herself) that Daniel's sister was unjustly accused. But her use of unnecessary fictionalized dialogue among detectives who are composites is a questionable narrative tactic in a true-crime tale. (Apr. 5)

Reviewed on: 02/21/2005
Release date: 04/01/2005
Mass Market Paperbound - 236 pages - 978-0-425-20918-9
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