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Memoir of an Accused Satanist

Life After Death. By Damien Echols. New York: Penguin Group, 2013. ISBN 978-0142180280. 416 pp. Softcover, $11.88.

When it comes to true-crime autobiographies, readers can usually expect one or both of the following items within the pages: a guilty-pleasure of tabloid sensationalism surrounding a real tragic event or a commentary on the social factors leading up to the crime and punishment with the writer claiming innocence (or not). With Damien Echols’s Life After Death, I was hoping for my guilty-pleasure fix in the form of the small-town murder mystery of which he was convicted, as well as an opinionated commentary on the American Satanic Panic of the 1980s and early 1990s that many believe Echols to have been a victim of. To my surprise, and ultimate delight, Life After Death offers neither true-crime cliché en masse but instead transcends the genre with what may be the best true-crime autobiography ever written. Shunning the conventional formats, Echols drifts seamlessly through vibrant childhood memories, terrifying prison experiences, and poetic outpourings from a thoughtful young man who has had many lonely years to contemplate his own existence. Though we of the skeptical community may be initially a little turned off by Damian’s fervent endorsements of various religions and pseudoscience (which he piles under the repeated term magick), he speaks of these things with such eloquence and wonder that even us critical-thinking types will accept such ideas as fair game for a young man’s soul searching in a desperate situation.

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