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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Review: Run, Brother, Run

Book Type: true crime meets family memoir

Stereotype Alert: Nada 

Cover Art: Hey Ma!  We're in a window!

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: N/A

Character Score: 6 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: David Berg writes a memoir that is half family history, half detailed account of his older brother's murder.

X-Factor: A rose by any other name...

Stereotype Alert: Nope.  This is a very interesting tale of family and murder but there isn't really anything stereotypical about it.

Cover Art: It's a memoir, y'all.  I'm pretty sure they are obligated to use an old family photo on the cover.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: I've decided that I only want to do Bed/Bride/Bludgeon in the realm of fictional characters.  Since all the people in this story exist, I'm going to let them be.

Character Score: David Berg may be a lawyer and not an official writer, but he has a wonderful voice.  The way he tells his family's story is quirky and funny despite the murder that you know is coming.

What's the Story?:  
Run, Brother, Run is a true tale of murder and how it affects a family.  The book is written by David Berg, whose older brother was murdered under mysterious circumstances by hit man Charles Harrelson (father of actor Woody Harrelson).  While a good portion of the book deals with the crime, police investigation and the aftermath of the court case surrounding Alan Berg’s murder, much of the story is about the Berg family.  It is a story about memory and how tragic events can alter the way you see the past and the future.

Berg begins with memories from his childhood using wit and honesty to portray life in a very stressful home.  Here is one example:

“That was 1946, the year our father met Dorothy Heinrich in a Kalamazoo diner.  She would one day become his wife, but for now, she was his waitress.  “Dot” was five ten, with the sultriness of Rita Hayworth.  Mom was four ten, with the temperament of Henry VIII- so there you have it.  It wasn’t the first time Mom had caught Dad cheating, but it was the last.  Our parents would scream at each other for what felt like hours.  Alan would cry in bed beside me, and then, to my astonishment, get up and go down the hall to intervene.  Mom would shriek, Get out of here, Mr. Buttinski, this is not your business!  Get back in that bed! “(4).

Berg talks a lot about growing up in the Berg household.  A big part of that time was David and Alan’s father wanting his sons to go to medical school.  Alan took quite a few detours before getting there (including leaving the Navy due to holding a floating crap game) but Alan finally made it into the medical program at the University of Texas.  After a fight with his father, Alan took off instead of registering for classes.  The hopes of having a physician in the Berg family had died yet another death.

David becomes a lawyer much to his father’s dismay.  When Alan disappears in May of 1968, David admits to being busy starting his new career.  But it is clear that certain things don’t add up.  Alan had been involved in gambling, but he was also very in love with his wife who was then pregnant with their third child.  The police refused to start an investigation, insisting that Alan must have just taken off.  But David and his father knew different.  They began hunting for leads which took them down a whirlwind of different paths, most of which involved paying a fee of some kind.  When Alan’s body was finally found six months later, questions surrounding Charles Harrelson and a business associate of Alan and David’s father swirled in earnest. 

There isn’t a happy ending to this tale.  There is not justice for the dead, and none for the surviving family.  David Berg tries his best to use his knowledge of law to lay out the facts surrounding his brother’s murder and subsequent trial.  It is a stark tale of true crime in America in the 1960s.

X-Factor: A rose by any other name...

Full disclosure: the only reason I picked up this book was because I'd heard that the brother was murdered by Woody Harrelson's dad.  Then I read the inside cover, and was like "Woody Harrelson's father was a notorious hit man???? I must read this!"  To be honest, I'd like to know more about Charles Harrelson and how he fell into the life that he lived.  But knowing that Harrelson was never convicted of murdering Alan Berg made him into even more of a low-life than I'd originally thought.  Again, the star power isn't the factor I thought it would be, but it was still an honest, even funny memoir.


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