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The Poison Tree

A True Story of Family Terror
Written by: Alan Prendergast
Narrated by: Mel Foster
Length: 14 hrs and 49 mins

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Publisher's Summary

Edgar Award Finalist: The shocking account of a Wyoming father who terrorized his family for years - until his children plotted a deadly solution.

One cold November night, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, fifteen-year-old Richard Jahnke Jr., ROTC leader and former Boy Scout, waited for his parents to return from celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the night they met. When his father got out of the car, the boy blasted him through the heart with a twelve-gauge pump-action shotgun. Richard's seventeen-year-old sister, Deborah, was sitting on the living room couch with a high-powered rifle - just in case her brother missed.

Hours later the Jahnke kids were behind bars. Days later they made headlines. So did the truth about the house of horrors on Cowpoke Road.

Was it cold-blooded murder? Or self-defense?

Richard Jahnke Sr., special agent for the IRS, gun collector, and avid reader of Soldier of Fortune, had been subjecting his wife, Maria, and both children to harrowing abuse - physical, psychological, and sexual - for years. Deborah and her brother conspired to finally put a stop to it themselves. But their fate was in the hands of a prejudiced and inept judicial system, and only public outcry could save them.

Written with the full and revealing cooperation of the Jahnkes, this finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime is "the ultimate family nightmare, played out in the heartland of America.... From the night of the murder through both trials, convictions and both youngsters' eventual release...it's gripping reading" (Chicago Tribune).

©1986 Alan Prendergast (P)2019 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Charlaine Hill
  • 2019-10-05

Terrible narration

The way I evaluate a great narrator is when I'm not aware of the narration but the content of the story. Unfortunately, that was not this case with this book. Some narrators can subtly change their voice between male and female in such a slight way that the listener is barely aware of it. What had me gritting my teeth was the narrator's attempt to sound like a teenaged female; he sounded like a middle-aged man trying to sound like a teenaged girl.
The story is written in a very melodramatic tone with the main females sounding whiny and helpless while the main male is a cross between a hopeless romantic and a monster. I won't comment further on the story because I'm only half way through it and I may not be able to finish it. I just wanted to warn future readers; I always appreciate it when i'm given a heads up about poor narration.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Leslie
  • 2019-10-17

well performed. good story

This story could have lost the listener due to all of the small details. It was so well performed that I never found myself lost or bored. A true eye opener about effects of abuse as well as society's inability to handle children driven to commit adult crimes.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Sarah R. Jacobs
  • 2019-10-02

A Complex, True-To-Period Depiction

While it is more than somewhat marred by the simplistic, almost burlesqued voice acting interpretation of Mel Foster (he makes the principal characters sound like bit characters from Arthur or Caillou), which may, in fact, be the result of a poor job on the part of the director

(and I wish Audible and Kindle would list all of the credits. And the original copyright date of the texts and of the audiobooks. These things are part of the work. They are necessary to a full understanding of the style, interpretation, and abridgment choices of the production companies: For instance, why is this audiobook unabridged, while another, better-interpreted one is abridged? One reason might be that bandwidth and digital editing cost almost nothing in comparison with physical cassette tapes and their editing processes. And digital playback is less difficult and prone to glitches like the cassette player "eating" the tape from inside the cassette.)

at any rate, none of the crew is listed in the credits part of the audiobook's listing, so I don't know how to spell their names to write about them, much less seek out or request more of their work if I wish to compare.

The text, itself, though, if you run it through your head as imagined typescript, and, simultaneously to listening to the book, imagine a more appropriate and representative dramatic interpretation of said text, is finely balanced between showing what most likely happened in such a way that it does not unduly influence the emotions of the reader towards bias towards or against the perpetrators of the crimes described.

The flavor of the time period and the contemporaneous blocky, awkward relation of the facts of crimes and the workings of courts of law, by most of the news media of the day, are portrayed so faithfully, that I was transported, emotionally, back into the 1980s. I remembered how crime reporting was done, in a much less procedural manner.
An attempt seemed to be made to transform trials, by way of omitting various devices and procedures of the law (and, thereby, also, explanations of why they work that way, and how that leads to a more just result), into dramas that roughly adhered to the Dramatic Unities outlined by Aristotle. We news viewers who were ignorant of how trials functioned were often left with the impression that a great injustice had been done by some entity called The System, when, really, the fault lay with the state legislators who originally set down the descendants of British Common Law that were the relevant portions of their states' codes of criminal justice; or with some crotchety judge who should have retired decades ago, or, even better, stayed a prosecutor or a defense attorney.

At any rate, the author, here, takes pains to disabuse the reader of that sort of news media-enforced ignorance. He educates about procedure while he tells a compelling tale that proves the point of Richard Jahnke, Junior's favorite aphorism: "What can go wrong, will go wrong. "

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
  • karen j mcleod
  • 2019-10-03

Terrible Story!

The writer seemed to encourage this vigilante justice. Many kids are abused every day. And many much worse than these kids. It's a hard way to grow up. I know it better than most. But ambushing your father or parents is never the solution. This kid got his wrists slapped. And got away with murder. It seems his mother was fine to go along with the abuse while It was happening. But then, after he's murdered, now he's "the monster."

The whole story makes me sick. Shame on the justice system in Wyoming. Just because a person is likeable or you feel sorry for them, doesn't mean they should get away with a planned ambush and murder. Abuse or no abuse, It is not okay to murder! This story sends a very sick message to abused children, "If you are abused bad enough, it's okay to take a shotgun to your tormenter."

3 of 10 people found this review helpful