Book Review

Review for Edges of Truth by Reader’s Favorite:

Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan for Reader’s Favorite (5 Stars)

Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story by Deb Brammer is the moving story of a woman who is accused of murder. Melissa Mathes is eleven months old and she dies while under the care of Mary Weaver, the caregiver. The autopsy reveals how the baby had internal bleeding inside the skull, due to a week-old fracture. The blame falls on Mary for shaking and slamming the baby. A group of doctors believe that the child died of abuse and others believe the evidence did not point towards Mary. Steve Brennecke, a lawyer and Mary’s friend, steps in to fight her case. The murder conviction and the fight to prove that she is innocent make it a heart-warming story.

Though a biography, the book is like a fiction which makes it a good read. The story is believable and it brings into the spotlight the risks faced by caregivers. The story is frightening. This is a story that can instill fear in the mind of all caregivers because it is something that can happen to any one of us. Her friend Steve, who is convinced that Mary is innocent, fights her case which stretches over four years. The murder trial, the assumptions and the testimonies of the people make the book exciting as well as intriguing. The book takes you through painful moments, sorrow, joy and many other emotions. Mary’s faith in God and her belief that God’s presence and grace is available to everyone is also part of the story and gives it a feeling of hope and healing.

Review for Edges of Truth by Dr. Bill Smallman (5 stars)

This true case history of a miscarriage of justice reads like a John Grisham novel. After a baby died suddenly, the caretaker nanny was accused of murder and child endangerment as the prosecution jumped to conclusions under pressure from biased scientists. The case re-examines the details of SBS, shaken baby syndrome, and possible hasty accusations that, in Iowa, leave the convicted ones in prison for life without parole. The work is rich with lessons in litigation, and show the thoroughness of detailed forensic analysis and development of a convincing case. It clearly shows the resources of a strong spiritual anchorage of one’s faith in Christ in the course of incredible trials. This is a page-turner, right up to its own surprise ending.

Presumed Guilty: The Child Care Nightmare That Could Happen to You

By Adam Blumer

Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story by Deb Brammer with Steve Brennecke, CreateSpace, November 2013, 350 pages, $13.95.

Novelist Deb Brammer and former attorney on the case Steve Brennecke retell the inspiring true story of Mary Weaver in Edges of Truth. Mary, an Iowa babysitter, was accused and convicted of first-degree murder in the mysterious death of eleven-month-old Melissa Mathes on January 22, 1993.

Written with effective fiction technique and based on meticulous research of court records, the book traces the story of Melissa’s mysterious death and Mary’s journey to prove her innocence through the legal system—first in a mistrial, then a retrial that ended in a first-degree murder conviction in May 1994, and then the appeal process.

The book does a terrific job of grabbing the readers from the baby’s death on the first page and leading them through the police intimidation and accusations, the arrest, the sometimes-confusing and coldhearted practices of the legal system, the agendas of defense witnesses, courtroom politics, monotonous days in prison, the pain of separation from family members, the trial of Mary’s faith.

At the heart of the Mary’s conviction is a mysterious skull fracture, previous head injuries, and controversy surrounding whether those combined problems led to the baby’s death. Also in question is the time frame in which the terrible accident or intentional murder occurred. Conflicting medical testimony from so-called experts only adds to the potential confusion of this multifaceted case, but the authors do a terrific job leading the reader through the details and showing both sides of the argument with sensitive balance. Sometimes the testimony, which appears verbatim from court transcripts, borderlines on being too technical, but the authors deftly explain the more technical details in ways readers can understand. Ultimately they show that no one should have convicted Mary of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The book also excels in showing the human side of this drama by highlighting how this terrible tragedy affected everyone involved. The reader can’t help but grieve with Mary and Steve, her attorney, and feel both anger and amazement at every legal twist and turn of this amazing story.

Mary’s unfair mistreatment from the very beginning outraged me. Based on words and actions from law enforcement officials, she was no longer considered innocent until proven guilty. Once she was arrested, I could hardly put the book down. I wanted to know whether she would finally get justice—and the book doesn’t disappoint. At times reading about her life in prison while she waited for a break became a tad tedious—but this effect helped me better feel what Mary must have experienced at the time: living in limbo, not knowing whether she’d ever be home with her family again.

This book affected me in several profound ways. The story had a chilling effect when I learned a babysitter could be convicted of murder with no direct forensic evidence tying him or her to the crime. As the authors point out, a caregiver never wants to be alone with a child who dies. The Mary Weaver story is Exhibit A.

Though defense witnesses frequently have good agendas, such as stamping out child abuse, in this case the fervor of their crusades led jurors to convict Mary based only on their controversial theories. And really, no one ever had anything but theories from the very beginning; there was no hard, irrefutable evidence putting Mary behind bars. Ultimately, this story filled me with dread because really, Mary Weaver’s ordeal could happen to any well-meaning American who is at the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, it could happen to you!

In the epilogue, the authors show how the outcome of Mary’s case affected more than her and her family. It caused a reversal in thinking on the topic of shaken baby syndrome, which opened the prison bars for other innocent caregivers.

This book reads like a good mystery, and readers will have a hard time putting it down. The authors don’t shy away from including faith elements in the story—in particular, showing Mary’s faith journey. The book might seem a tad religious to average readers, but I don’t think the religious content, which is never preachy, would turn them away.

Edges of Truth is an eye-opening true story that exposes the dangers of any legal system when it is swayed more by “expert” opinion than by facts. Anyone who believes in “innocent until proven guilty” needs to read this book—and beware. Readers everywhere will be both stunned by Mary’s trial of patience and inspired by her journey of faith.

This riveting story about truth winning the victory in spite of nearly impossible odds will arrest readers from the first page and hold them captive until the stunning verdict. This rare glimpse into the inner workings of a murder trial held me spellbound. I couldn’t put the book down, and I highly recommend it.

Adam Blumer, a novelist and full-time freelance editor,  is the author of two suspense novels, Fatal Illusions (Kregel) and The Tenth Plague (Kirkdale Press).