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Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder that Rocked New Orleans Hardcover – September 1, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 118 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. On October 17, 2006, 28-year-old Iraq war veteran Zackery Bowen leapt to his death from a New Orleans hotel roof, leaving a suicide note directing police to the dismembered body of his girlfriend, Addie Hall. In journalist Brown's (Snitch) account of Bowen's life, the deterioration of the vet suffering from PTSD parallels that of Katrina-whipped New Orleans, its residents left as stranded as unsupported veterans like Bowen. A high school dropout, New Orleans bartender and a father at age 18, Bowen was determined to improve himself and do well by his child and Lana, his wife, and enlisted in the army, serving as an MP in Kosovo and Iraq. Granted what Brown says was an unfair general (under honorable conditions) discharge, Bowen returned to New Orleans in late 2004, where, abandoned by Lana, he began a turbulent relationship with Hall, culminating in Bowen methodically dismembering and cooking her remains. After covering the murder-suicide for Penthouse in 2007, Brown moved to New Orleans, and his detailed reconstruction of both Bowen's life and the city's deterioration make heartbreaking reading. Perhaps most poignant is the message painted on Bowen's apartment wall: please help me stop the pain. 14 b&w photos. (Sept. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"Heartbreaking."—Publishers Weekly

"The value of this provocative … book lies in its careful examination of a tragic crime; the author has also made a significant contribution to the literature about the Iraq war. Shake the Devil Off can … be read as a follow-up to Dexter Filkins’s … The Forever War. If Filkins taught us about the war over there, Brown has brought the war home."—Lisa Scottoline, The New York Times Book Review

"Brown creates a riveting portrait of a gruesome crime while detailing the heart of a city in distress. A grim … story delivered with skill and verve."—Kirkus Reviews

"A nicely crafted shocker." —Booklist

"Ethan Brown examines a notorious murder case, rescues it from the talons of tabloid journalists, and comes up with something much more than a true crime book. Shake the Devil Off is a gripping suspense story, an indictment of the military’s treatment of our soldiers in and out of war, and a celebration of the resilience and worth of a great American city."—George Pelecanos, New York Times bestselling author of The Turnaround and Hell to Pay

"Ethan Brown establishes himself as a prodigious reporter and masterful storyteller in Shake the Devil Off, a chilling portrait of a broken hero failed by the system."—Evan Wright, author of the New York Times bestseller Generation Kill

"A ‘coming home’ story that rivals any written about veterans of the war in Iraq, and a true crime account that raises the bar for the genre. Measured, thoroughly reported, and written with true empathy."—Nate Blakeslee, author of Tulia

"Looking more deeply at that from which the rest of us turned in horror, Ethan Brown has transformed an ugly and disturbing shard of the post-Katrina anguish. In this book, that which was lurid and sensational becomes, chapter by chapter, something genuinely sad and reflective, something that now has true meaning for New Orleans and for all of us."—David Simon, author of Homicide and The Corner

"The account of a volatile relationship gone terribly wrong, but [a] lot more than that…. Demonstrates a deep understanding of how New Orleans is…. [Brown] gets New Orleans and the people who choose to reside here."—OffBeat

"[A] sensational chronicle…. Bowen’s story … draws at least as much of its moral from Sid and Nancy as it does from Full Metal Jacket…. Brown deftly summons up [Zack and Addie’s] immediate social world as a testament to how the city felt to certain residents on the ground in the wake of Katrina."—Bookforum

"The chilling story of Zackery Bowen… a fall that indicts the military’s treatment of its soldiers."—St. Petersburg Times

"Delves straight into the heart of darkness…. Well-investigated, well-written and tautly paced…. A unique portrait of tenacious New Orleans, pre- and post-Katrina, and a reflective—though utterly chilling—account of how veterans of the Iraq war are suffering from mental degradation and lack of support."—BookPage

"Gripping and honest."—Amy Wilentz, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (September 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805088938
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805088939
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #730,216 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By L. Moffitt on September 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I just want to thank Ethan again for the excellent way he handled Zack's story. I am Zack' Mom and I wasn't going to read this book as I thought it would be too painful, but I kept looking at the cover and then the pictures and then a few lines and I was hooked. It was like I got to see inside the 10 years I lost with Zack. When I'd talk to him, everything would be "I'm fine Mom!" Evidently, not. It has given me a closure at last to the last three years of not really knowing what happened to my son. He was a wonderful gentle giant with a big heart--not a horrible monster as some proclaimed after the murder. I just hope someone can learn something from this sad tale. Ethan has done a wonderful job of this story---as hard as it was to read some parts---I thank him for his hard work and dedication to getting the true story out. Zack's Mom
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Format: Hardcover
After tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, Zack Bowen went home to New Orleans only to face Hurricane Katrina. Haunted by both his military and storm experiences he killed his girlfriend, Addie Hall, and then committed suicide, leaving behind a stunned city and a devastated group of family and friends.

Like the central person in this book, the story fails to realize its potential. Brown seems to flail in the beginning as he tries to eulogize a person and a situation he doesn't quite understand. He finds firmer ground as he recounts Zack's tours overseas, interviewing the soldiers that shared his experiences. A new husband and father, Zack finds himself torn between his duty to his country and more importantly to his comrades, and his very ill wife and two small children. When the Army denies his request to join his wife on a German base as she undergoes life-threatening treatment for hepatitis, Zack's positive attitude towards the military is replaced with seething anger. This anger only underscores his disagreement with the two wars, and eventually Zack quietly decides to get out of the military. Despite an impressive service record, he is discharged for failure to do an adequate number of push-ups and his discharge denies him much-need veterans benefits.

From there, Zack's life begins a downward spiral. He and his wife separate and he hooks up with Addie, a mercurial bartender in the French Quarter. Zack supports himself delivering groceries and tending bar and his girlfriend does much the same. When Katrina hits New Orleans the couple hunkers down and actually turns the whole experience into an adventure. Their freedom ends when military forces finally arrive in NO to restore order.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book intrigued me primarily because I distinctly remember the initial news story that first drew national attention to Zack Bowen and Addie Hall: Two young adults who weathered the wrath of Hurricane Katrina and found a way to find happiness together amid the devastation. While the story was meant to be a "feel-good" story, I distinctly recall the accompanying pictures telling a different story ... battered survivors finding a way to keep the N'awlins party spirit going. There was an ominous sense that the "happiness in the midst of disaster" scenario (and the relationship, for that matter) would be short-lived and the individuals would simply fade into obscurity. So, the subsequent murder-suicide of Zack and Addie a year later was somewhat of a shock ... even more-so once the grisly details were revealed. SHAKE THE DEVIL OFF presents the titillating opportunity to delve deeper into lives of at least one of these two tragic individuals and follow his path of destruction. While author Ethan Brown delivers a descent overview of the general story, he comes across as a little too sympathetic to Zack (the perpetrator) throughout and appears determined to blame all Zack's wrongdoings on prior military service ... even though he presents other logical rationale for Bowen's demise.

The story of Zack and Addie simply serves as another colorful tile that comprises the mosaic that is New Orleans, a city that can simultaneously embody the light and dark sides of mankind. A city that embraces the exuberant highs of Mardi Gras and accepts it's mysterious and seedy underworld as a trait that makes it unique. Brown's account of Zack and Addie's lives (and their demise) is almost symbolic of post-Katrina New Orleans ... damaged souls struggling to survive against the odds.
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Format: Hardcover
As a New Orleans resident, I was just as fascinated/sickened by the Zack/Addie murder when it first hit the news here. It was probably the same fascination that Ethan Brown felt, which was enough to result in him moving here and writing this book. Although Mr. Brown obviously has done a lot of research for this book, I simply was not happy with his results and conclusions, and feel he was way off the mark in some places. In the end, the book winds up being more of a testament to a questionable lifestyle led by some people here which could only be summed up as a New Orleans fantasy. Zack Bowen and Addie Hall felt that they were doing something good for the city by staying in the French Quarter after Katrina as "holdouts", appearing in the New York Times and other major papers, but in reality they were just living out their New Orleans fantasy - staying wasted and working as little as possible, while in other sections of town, people were drowning and dying in their attics. Their statement of disregarding orders to evacuate and being maverick holdouts in the city meant nothing, and accomplished nothing.

This book spends far too much time in Iraq. Half the book takes place during Zack's days in the service, in Kosovo and Iraq; the author is unable to really draw clear lines between Zack's experiences and the murder he commits later in the story. It's speculation to say that undiagnosed PTSD is what caused Zack to murder Addie Hall, and Ethan Brown doesn't seem to factor in other important things such as Zack being drunk most of the time; his secret homosexuality (which is glossed over in the book and never examined as a reason for his self-esteem issues); and the details of Addie's abuse of him.
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