cover image Kill ’Em and Leave: Searching for the Real James Brown

Kill ’Em and Leave: Searching for the Real James Brown

James McBride. Spiegel & Grau, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9350-9

McBride, mainly known for his bestselling 1995 memoir, The Color of Water, returns to nonfiction with an investigation into the life, times, and death of James Brown, the “hardest-working man in show business.” Though the soul singer’s musical legacy is ingrained in the collective American unconscious, many details about Brown’s personal life and the lives he touched along the way remain obscure. McBride reveals them while seeking to correct misconceptions perpetuated by the recent film Get On Up. Most notable among McBride’s tales are those involving Al Sharpton, whom Brown unofficially adopted; the relationship shines a light on both men’s lives that is often overlooked. Chasing down Brown’s life story all over the South, McBride enters some shady situations and stumbles on a story even larger than the Godfather of Soul himself: the fate of Brown’s estate, which has been so preyed upon by various lawyers that the poverty-stricken children for which it was meant haven’t seen a dime. McBride’s storytelling is heavily impeded by clichés and trite metaphors, but the power of his subject matter nevertheless shines through in this solid work of journalism. Agent: Flip Brophy, Sterling Lord. (Apr.)