Even the most tragically familiar stories can devolve into shocking and unbelievable true crime cases. Part true crime narrative and part courtroom drama, At Any Cost: A Father’s Betrayal, A Wife’s Murder, and a Ten-Year War for Justice by Rebecca Rosenberg and Selim Algar (2021 St. Martin’s Press), recounts the worst results of domestic violence and the horrible ripple-effect of one family’s tragedy.
The book recounts the life of Shele Danishefsky, a successful and brilliant woman from a tight-knit and supportive Jewish family working on Wall Street. Eager to start a family, Shele meets and marries Rod Covlin, a Jewish Ivy League graduate with a promising future. However, the familiar hallmarks of systematic domestic violence soon emerged. After their marriage, Rod’s kind and caring nature dissolved into a taste for unemployment, online gaming tournaments, and internet dating—all reliant on Shele’s income. After a ten-year marriage, Shele filed for divorce and chaos over the custody of the former couple’s two children and Shele’s money ensued. Although Shele finally resolved to legally bar Rod from her will in December 2009, she would ultimately be dead before she could meet with her lawyer.
Both prominent journalists, Rosenberg and Algar bring a admirably clear writing style to the many complicated aspects of this book. In recounting the life and actions of a man who worked to confuse, tangle, misdirect, and lie his way to a fortune that he was not entitled to, Rosenberg and Algar carefully reconstruct and recount the events surrounding Shele’s murder with remarkable clarity. Many of their findings are accurately supported with witness testimony, court transcripts, and other evidentiary material. This text truly is a true crime novel in the digital age. With the case concluding in 2019, the authors seemingly had an overwhelming amount of evidence to work with over the course of more than a decade. Their status as journalists comes through in their punchy, to-the-point writing as well as in their ability to integrate hard evidence and fact-based reporting into their text.
The text pulls together a number of different threads that worked to make this case difficult to untangle. Shele’s Jewish background, police procedure, courtroom procedure, and custody rules, all contribute to the intense twists and turns of this case, Rosenberg and Algar include the right amount of context in order for the reader to understand the judicial system in the United States and New York City. Coupled with their technical skill, however, both authors are supremely interested in painting a portrait of Shele, her life, her family, and the gravity of her loss. While this story, in many ways, reads as sickeningly familiar and Rod’s abuse and manipulation is harrowing, Rosenberg and Algar paint a picture of Shele’s life in all of its complexity and vivacity. The authors also, in addressing the minute details of Shele’s story, make a wider statement about the complexities of domestic violence and the systems that can help or hinder victims in their ambition to protect themselves and their children.
Suspensefully written and expertly told, I read over half of this book in one sitting. I was hardly able to put it down. I was so desperate to see Shele and her family get justice. The twists and turns of this case are absolutely appalling and seemingly endless. In addition to recounting a timely and recent case that everyone should read about, I could not recommend this book more as a prime example of excellent, journalism-based true crime with a thoughtful and focused writing style.
About the Writer:
Rachel M. Friars (she/her) is a PhD student in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She holds a BA and an MA in English Literature with a focus on neo-Victorianism and adaptations of Jane Eyre. Her current work centers on neo-Victorianism and nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history, with secondary research interests in life writing, historical fiction, true crime, popular culture, and the Gothic. Her academic writing has been published with Palgrave Macmillan and in The Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies. She is a reviewer for The Lesbrary, the co-creator of True Crime Index, and an Associate Editor and Social Media Coordinator for PopMeC Research Collective. Rachel is co-editor-in-chief of the international literary journal, The Lamp, and regularly publishes her own short fiction and poetry. Find her on Twitter and Goodreads.
A copy of this book was graciously provided by St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.