A Bitter Brew: Faith, Power, and Poison in a Small New England Town

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Overview

Who set out to kill the members of the church?

On April 27, 2003, in the hamlet of New Sweden, Maine, Walter Morrill was sipping coffee in the fellowship hall of the Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church. Within 12 hours, the kindly old man was dead. Fifteen other members of the congregation fell gravely ill. ...
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NY 2005 Hard cover First edition. 1st edition / printing April 2005. New in new dust jacket. Gift Quality. Pristine. Brand New. Fast Arrival. Collectors item. Carefuly packaged ... & shipped in bubble wrap. 1st edition / printing April 2005. Glued binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. 256 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade. Gift Quality. Pristine. Brand New. Fast Arrival. Collectors item. Carefuly packaged & shipped in bubble wrap. 1st edition / printing April 2005. Read more Show Less

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Overview

Who set out to kill the members of the church?

On April 27, 2003, in the hamlet of New Sweden, Maine, Walter Morrill was sipping coffee in the fellowship hall of the Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church. Within 12 hours, the kindly old man was dead. Fifteen other members of the congregation fell gravely ill. Ruled a homicide, the largest criminal arsenic poisoning in U.S. history spread whispers of fear through this peaceful town.

Which one of their close friends was the murderer?

Panic and suspicion gave way to bizarre accusations of conspiracy, revenge, and blood feuds.

Who was next?

What would unfold in New Sweden was a real-life murder mystery worthy of Agatha Christie-but far stranger than any fiction.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425200421
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/28/2005
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Christine Ellen Young is an award-winning investigative journalist who has worked in both newspaper and television. She has received the coveted Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton, the National Headliner Award, the National Clarion Award, and the Edward R. Murrow Award, as well as numerous honors from the Associated Press. She is a cum laude graduate of the University of Southern Maine and lives with her husband, photojournalist John Pertel, and their children.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2005

    An enlightening read

    Having lived in northern Maine -- a very interesting place sociologically, because of its isolation, long winters, and small population -- I think this book shows how complicated and twisted-around small towns can become, especially after a tragedy like the New Sweden church poisonings. Gathering information for this book must have been tough because by their nature, people from this area aren't forthcoming with those 'from away.' I can understand how people from New Sweden (especially those who belong to the church) would react negatively and/or defensively to this book. It's not necessarily flattering, but it is enlightening to people who don't live in an isolated small town. It shows how suspicions can fester and create an atmosphere that is akin that in The Scarlet Letter, leading to one person -- never accused by police -- becoming ostracized to the point where some others won't even go into a store if her car is parked out front. The fact that many churchmembers don't blame the person who admitted to the poisonings (and who had even consulted a lawyer a couple days after the incident before taking his own life) but instead harbor suspicions over someone else -- well, it's just mind-boggling. And it seems sad, too. The book is well-written, provides lots of details, and also gives information about a few other big cases in Maine, offering a fascinating peek into the state police detective work that usually is hidden from the public. The only (very minor) thing lacking from the book was a larger perspective -- something to put what happened after the poisonings in context, sociologically, that would help make more sense of some churchmembers' stunning reactions.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    Church politics and power struggles run amok

    This is a great read and a fascinating study of human behavior in small organizations. Anyone who has ever belonged to a church group, condo association or school board will recognize the characters in this story. A truly absorbing book and a quick read. Well researched and funny.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2005

    A Bitter Brew: Faith, Power, and Poison in a Small New England Town

    This is a well-written book and a fascinating story. Recommended.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2005

    A Bitter Brew: Faith, Power, and Poison in a Small New England Town

    This was a phenominal book. i highly suggest it to everyone. It was a book that could not be put down. :)

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2005

    A Bitter Brew: Faith, Power, and Poison in a Small New England Town

    This book was amazing. Christine Young knew how to portray every aspect of this small rural town. i suggest this book to anyone looking for an amazing book. Very Well Done!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2005

    A Rip Snorer

    Boring. Clumsily written. Inconclusive. And a hatchet job on the real story that has yet to be told. The book jacket is incredibly misleading!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2005

    A Bitter Brew: Faith, Power, and Poison in a Small New England Town

    I had a blast reading this. It moves fast, and the chapters are short and entertaining. Nice pictures. And those people! Too much time on their hands for gossip and fingerpointing. Very interesting book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2005

    Definite Disappointment

    As a resident of Maine's Swedish Colony I was bracing myself for the release of this book, but nothing could have prepared me for the distorted depiction this book gives of our community. The book wallows so and descends so deeply into petty gossip that it became boring. By the time I got to the chapter on the fight over who would take Pastor Arneson on a snowmobile ride, I realized that this was not the revealing, insightful book I had hoped to read. There was very little new information about the case and I found the villification of some of the arsenic victims unnecessary and unkind.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2005

    A Bitter Brew: Faith, Power, and Poison in a Small New England Town

    A unique story, and the author did a very good job getting at the meat of it. Recommended.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2005

    A Bitter Brew: Faith, Power, and Poison in a Small New England Town

    This book came as a surprise -- really entertaining and fast moving. Also has great photos.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2005

    A Bitter Brew: Faith, Power, and Poison in a Small New England Town

    This is a fascinating tale, intelligently written, and while sad, also very funny. The writing is clear and easy to understand, and the author does a great job capturing the flavor of this odd little town. I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good absorbing story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2005

    I loved this book!

    I got my hands on a reviewers copy of this book, man, I couldn't stop reading -- finished in two days. New Sweden should be called New Salem -- because these 'church' people conducted a witch hunt. It's a study in human nature and the 'mob' mentality.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2005

    A great read!

    Oh, how a 'church' can become a hornet's nest of feuds, spats, and petty politics! I was completely taken in by this story, which was very different from what I expected -- not a police procedural like many true crime books -- this is an entertaining and enlightening look at how gossip, fear, and power plays can wreak havoc on families, friends and neighbors.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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