Redeemable: A Memoir of Darkness and Hope

Erwin James. Bloomsbury, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-1-63286-294-5
In this dark memoir, columnist and author James describes the creation of a thug and murderer. After the death of his mother in a drunken car wreck, James suffered at the hands of a violent, alcoholic father, who dragged him across Great Britain only to abandon him with various relatives. James reacted to this unstable upbringing by engaging in petty theft, which led to stints in various institutions. Alcohol made him a pub bully and brought further encounters with the law. After murdering two people during robberies, he fled the country and joined the French Foreign Legion. When a former partner in crime confessed, James returned to face trial and 20 years in prison. The encouragement of a prison psychiatrist led him to the slow realization that he might still be redeemable, and he found an unlikely calling as a journalist and writer. James’s matter-of-fact tone saves his grim biography from melodrama: in his telling, an abused child becomes an abusive man in a way that seems almost inevitable. Most fascinating are his nomadic treks across Britain, sleeping rough for months at a time while still managing to hold down jobs. Oddly, James leaves two pivotal moments underexplored: his decision to return to England, and the moments he committed the murders. These absences leave the book incomplete, but they don’t detract from his depiction of the making of a criminal. Agent: Jim Monahan, David Godwin Associates. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 11/09/2015
Release date: 04/05/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
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