Shake The Devil: A True Story Of The Murder That Rocked New Orleans, by Ethan Brown
There are a few essential problems with this book, and it is worthwhile to consider such problems as they materially affect the seriousness of this book and its importance to the reader. The author seems to assume that his subject matter is more important than it really is, as I had never heard of the admittedly brutal murder case discussed here before reading the book nor did I know or care that the murderer and victim were famous for being among the die-hards who refused to evacuate the post-Katrina French Quarter. In addition to that this book falls somewhat flat in the fact that the author works hard to try to reduce the responsibility for the strangling and dismemberment of the victim on the part of her on-again, off-again partner, himself a veteran of the military in Kosovo and the second Gulf War, and apparently a sufferer of untreated PTSD, blaming everything from mental health problems to the failures of the military to support veterans to early childhood issues springing from his parents’ divorces (and the victim’s history of abusive relationships springing from childhood sexual abuse) to New Orleans and its corrupt authorities. In addition to these failures, the author inserts himself into the story to such an extent that it distorts what the author is reporting on, and that is a crime spree that demonstrates the darkness and evil present in New Orleans society that (not without reason) reduces the sympathy and concern that other people have for a city that has an over-inflated sense of its limited cultural and moral worth.
Instead of beginning in media res, this book begins with the suicide of one Zackery Bown after a last group of partying and carousing in the aftermath of his murder of his partner, the abusive and unscrupulous Addie Hall. The rest of the nearly 300 pages then deals with mainly two elements. The first of these is a detailed biographical exploration of the life of Zackery Bowen that focuses first on his childhood, then on his early fatherhood and the struggles that resulted from his lack of a firm education. This leads to a focus on Zackery’s military service, which involved the viewing of atrocities in both Kosovo and Iraq, and to some failed pt’s that led to a general discharge that hindered Zackery’s ability to find good work and education and other benefits after the military, leading him to again work as a bartender in a scene where drugs and alcohol flowed easily and where frustration at failure in marriage and life led him (and others) down a very dark path. After discussing the murder-suicide the author then pads the book at the end with a discussion of the post-Katrina murder rampage and its effect on the author and other residents of the city.
At the end of the day, this book does not deliver the goods as to it being a true story. For one, the author’s discussion of the large amount of murders that New Orleans dealt within the post-Katrina period, including a great many murders of people who sought to bless and serve their communities, lowers the stake of the crime story at the center of the book. For another, the author’s focus on himself and on reports that he and others had written about New Orleans for the New York Times reduces the credibility of those who do not consider journalists to be suitable heroes of true crime books. And for another, the author’s desire to push the blame for crime on everyone but the criminal demonstrates the wickedness and moral vacuum in the heart of the contemporary left, which cannot bear that people take responsibility for their own actions. Someone else must be to blame–drugs and alcohol, mental health problems, flawed parents, childhood bullies, corrupt politicians, a cruel and uncaring military hierarchy, and on and on. All of these factors serve to make this book a thankless chore to read, and a book which deals with horror but which cannot provide insight because of the limitations of the author’s own perspective.