Kiss Off

I like to flatter myself into thinking I'm a fairly sophisticated entertainment consumer. Sure, I enjoy plenty of fluff, but at least I'm not first in line for whatever cinematic abortion Adam Sandler puts out. But no matter how deep or thoughtful the titles I pursue are, and no matter how hard I pat myself on the back for preferring a little indie film over Larry the Cable Guy, once in a while, I just want to roll around in trash.

So while I'm not a true-crime nut, I didn't hesitate for a moment when my boyfriend suggested I borrow the book One Last Kiss (2012), which is author Michael W. Cuneo's description of the 2009 murders of a woman and her two small sons. Suspicion quickly fell on Chris Coleman, the woman's husband, and the evidence soon confirmed his likely guilt. There's not much mystery to this mystery - the obvious suspect is the person who committed the crime, but there were details that made this case more interesting than the average murder.

First of all, there's the shock of delving into the personality of a person who calculatedly planned out how he was going to strangle his wife and two young children. Second, the murders happened just over the river from St. Louis - just in the past few days, I've gone into or past several locations mentioned in this series of events. Though I didn't have any recollection of this case, all my coworkers knew exactly what I was talking about when I mentioned it. And finally, there's a twisted religious angle to this story. Chris Coleman worked for the large, powerful Joyce Meyer Ministry, and his father was a pastor. Every horrifying thing Coleman did, and every disgusting twist of the facts after the fact his father engaged in from the pulpit, can be traced directly back to the sense of entitlement and moral superiority this family wrapped themselves in.

The book is logically organized: What the family was like in the beginning, the motivation and lead-up to the murders, the murders themselves, the investigation, and the trial. If there's one thing Cuneo accomplishes with aplomb, it's the ability to paint a vivid picture of the protagonists. Some of his descriptions of people's thought processes and actions are detailed to the point that I'm skeptical of their veracity, but I can't fault him for wanting to intrigue his readers by setting the scene as thoroughly as possible. After finishing this book, I felt like I had a good understanding of what happened.

That said, this was one of the most sloppy books I've read in a long time. Cuneo mixes up dates. He mixes up names. Typos are rampant. For fuck's sake, he refers to Illinois as having a "hurricane season". Perhaps his most egregious move is the casual mention of the murdered woman's brother possibly going to jail. Up until this point, no detail has been too small to describe. We know what his relationship with his father was like. We know his sports allegiances. So why was he facing the possibility of prison? Who knows?!? Cuneo never bothers to explain. I suppose any description of his brush with the law would taint the brother's depiction as one of the story's "good guys". That over-simplification into black and white occurs elsewhere, too. When the Coleman family presumes to know the mind of God, they're justifiably raked over the coals. But when the hardworking detectives presume to know the religious personification of evil, they're admired for it.

You could easily envision this book becoming a Lifetime Movie of the Week or a Court TV special. It's lurid and sad and morbidly fascinating. But while the case is intriguing, the book is pure rubbernecking. Maybe Cuneo should have devoted a little less time to figuring out the perfect way to describe the exact tint of a poor, murdered woman's hair, and little more time copy-editing.

One Last Kiss: C+


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