Justin McFarr's Reviews > Double Lives: True Tales of the Criminals Next Door

Double Lives by Eric Brach
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it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction, read-2018, signed-books

This book - broken down into short chapters that focus on "ordinary" Americans who committed a range of criminal acts - reminded me of the 70s and 80s, when there were a plethora of non-fiction books released about notorious Americans doing bad deeds. Back then I gorged on books like Robert Lindsey's "Falcon and the Snowman," Mark Baker's "Cops," Joe McGinniss' "Fatal Vision" and the Ann Rule true crime books.

Eric Brach now joins the pantheon of these writers' work with "Double Lives," a compelling and totally readable exploration of why certain people in our very own neighborhoods do the horrible things they do. Spanning the 20th century and into the 21st (in locales from CA to TX to NJ), these individual stories of menace and mayhem track the criminals from their (mostly) humble backgrounds and lower- to middle-class adulthood when the troubles bloomed. Little-known offenders like arsonist John Leonard Orr to famous perpetrators of evil like the BTK killer and child molester/congressman Dennis Hastert are profiled; Brach breaks down their lives, their seeming normalcy, and their horrific crimes - as well as the aftermath and their eventual capture.

In writing about these past crimes - instead of about current, unsolved horrors - the writer has the ability to allay some of the readers' fears of these "next-door" criminals by closing the circuit on them and concluding each chapter with their capture and prison sentences. None of the criminals get away with their crimes, and all are punished and put away so that the public can sleep just a little better knowing they no longer roam our streets our our neighborhoods.

The writer also makes the curious - but ultimately successful - choice of bringing his own personal history into the mix. Brach does this from the very beginning, explaining his interest in the subject of destruction and self-destruction by relating brief stories of the people he knows who have died. In the Introduction, and in two separate chapters, he inserts himself into the book with these stories of loss and addiction. In the two "Evan" chapters, he deals with his struggles of having consciously avoided contact with his childhood friend later in life, when the boy he met in Jr. High was now a man who had been in and out of rehab for serious drug addiction. It's a raw admission from a writer still conflicted about his own actions - and inaction - with regard to someone he considered a best friend in high school to a person who scared him enough to even skip his funeral.

These two chapters actually give the other chapters - and the other stories of criminals the writer has never met but has only researched - more resonance, and humanizes even the most horrific of these criminals by reminding us that these people could have been our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates, or even our friends. Besides the fact that these bite-sized stories about the evil that lurks in the hearts and minds of men (and women) are engrossing and entertaining, these tales also generate our compassion for the criminals and the idea that if they had shared their demons with someone else, perhaps these crimes may have been stopped ... or never committed in the first place. In our current age of social media and oversharing, perhaps there are future crimes against humanity that may be shared and stopped before they even occur. It's our job as good citizens and neighbors to look for the clues from these people out to do harm (and self-harm) and reach out to them before they can destroy themselves or others.

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Reading Progress

August 10, 2018 – Shelved
August 10, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
September 10, 2018 – Started Reading
September 26, 2018 – Finished Reading
September 27, 2018 – Shelved as: non-fiction
September 27, 2018 – Shelved as: read-2018
September 27, 2018 – Shelved as: signed-books

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