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Spotlight on: Mad Notions by John Lawrence Reynolds

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Mad Notions by John Lawrence Reynolds John Lawrence Reynolds, Mad Notions: A True Tale of Murder and Mayhem

"Every man is wise when attacked by a mad dog; fewer when pursued by a mad woman.
Only the wisest survive when attacked by a mad notion." --Robertson Davies

It's unfortunate that, so far, the only people that seem to be reading this book are ones who either knew--or are related to--the people involved (myself included). I say this is unfortunate because John Lawrence Reynolds has written a terrific narrative that deserves to be read by anyone with interest in the true crime genre. His relative closeness to the proceedings--his friend is Brett Rae's father and Reynolds was lucky in getting some of the relatives to help him out with the facts--makes for an engrossing insider's view of one of the worst scandals in East Tennessee's history. Mad Notions could be the best first-person true crime book since Ann Rule's The Stranger Beside Me.

Alicia Shayne Good was adopted into a life of affluence when her mother left a volatile relationship with Shayne's father and married local banker Brent Mills from Sevier County, Tennessee. Shayne Mills was popular, intelligent, beautiful (the winner of a Junior Miss competition), and had the best of everything. Soon, however, events (starting with the suspicious death of Mills) conspired to take away Shayne's privilege, beginning her downward spiral. Poor Kelly Lovera, it seems, simply got in her way. A smart small-town boy who was making good, Kelly had just become a lecturer at the local Pellissippi College in Knoxville when Shayne began plotting his death. But she couldn't do it alone, so she began attempting to manipulate her many lovers into assisting her. Unfortunately for Brett Rae, he was in love with Shayne and would do anything she asked.

And so November, 1994, found Kelly Lovera dead in his black Jeep on the side of an embankment. What happened exactly is unknown, due to the conflicting reports of those involved, but Reynolds paints a clear portrait of the before and after, while also showing the effects of how a brutal murder in this small town community was not that odd an occurrence, given the area's history of cover-ups. It's not hard to begin making judgments on behavior after the fact--and to sympathize with those we consider unjustly wronged--but one must remember that this is all after Reynolds has done all the work for us. 20/20 hindsight.

Reynolds uses his award-winning mystery-writing skills (he has won two Arthur Ellis Awards for his books The Man Who Murdered God and Gypsy Sins) to present the events occurring in Mad Notions in a logical progression that ties everything together, presenting it in an easily understandable progression that leads to great reading. He displays remarkable restraint and doesn't go for the obvious sensationalist tack that often tarnishes otherwise good writing in this genre. There is a fascinating story here that doesn't need any assistance and Reynolds lets its own fast-paced, suspenseful nature take the fore. His first-person narration makes the reading that much more immediate, and his use of language makes for vivid description of the parties involved and of the Great Smoky Mountains setting. Even upon finishing the first reading, the reader will believe that he or she has actually met these people, and the irony is not lost on Reynolds that such heinous happenings went on in such beautiful country. Mad Notions is destined to be one of those books that gets unreserved recommendations from stranger to stranger.

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