Bookworm: Trejo – Sometimes, you have to just let go

Plus, a look at the latest adult true crime books

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
“Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood” author Danny Trejo.

“Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood”

  • By Danny Trejo with Donal Logue
  • c. 2021, Atria
  • $27, $36 Canada, 288 pages

Just hold on. Wait it out, don't quit, they say. Hang on, don't let go. Better times are coming. Just hold on – or, as in the new memoir, “Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood” by Danny Trejo with Donal Logue, sometimes, you have to just let go.

The first time he went to jail, Danny Trejo was ten years old.

Within two years, he “was a regular at juvenile hall”; by the time he was in his early 20s, he'd spent time in several hard-core facilities, Soledad, Folsom, Alcatraz. He'd been “locked up, in and out but mostly in, since 1956” and he figured he'd die in prison.

“Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood” by Danny Trejo with Donal Logue.
“Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood” by Danny Trejo with Donal Logue.

Born at the tail-end of World War II, Trejo was taken from his birth mother as a toddler because his father thought she was neglecting the boy. Trejo's father taught him to be stoic, to stand up for himself, and to step up when someone needed to; his beloved Uncle Gilbert showed him how to survive the streets, and prison.

Gilbert also taught him to box, which allowed Trejo to gain respect behind bars.

Trejo knew Charles Manson. He worked as an inmate firefighter. Because he often ensured that vulnerable inmates weren't subject to violence or predation, guards came to appreciate him, and that led Trejo to better prison jobs. One of the last had placed him near where contraband entered the prison and soon, he “ran the heroin bag ... ”

You needed something? He could get it.

And then he lost that job in a fight that almost put him on Death Row. Heroin, pills, alcohol, weed, machismo, he couldn't do it anymore and he says he began to talk to God, promising to help others if He saved him. Once released, that's what Trejo did: he gave up alcohol and drugs and began counseling other addicts and those on their way to prison.

And one of them mentioned that he was making money as a movie extra...

As Big Hollywood Memoirs go, “Trejo” is a very pleasant surprise, starting with the fact that most of it isn't about Hollywood.

Indeed, author Danny Trejo (with Donal Logue) places nearly the entire first half of his book in prison, among hardened criminals, gang members, killers, and addicts, while partly weaving his early life into his tales behind bars. Trejo doesn't hide anything in his time of crime, nor does he minimize any of the impacts his family had on it, an honesty that allows for a curious trust between reader and writers.

But this is not a True Crime story. Trejo and Logue switch their tale at the point where Trejo almost accidentally becomes a Hollywood extra, and the tone quickly changes: darkness lifts from the narrative and it's almost ... happy. By then, readers will be ready for that; add the lack of attention-grabbing name-dropping, and you'll be happy, too.

This may be the most unique and gracious memoir you'll read this summer, so check it out. “Trejo” is a treasure, one you'll hold on to.

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Adult true crime books from various publishers.

Adult True Crime books

  • c. 2021, various publishers
  • $16, to $29; various page counts

The *click* on your window at 3 a.m. is not just hail.

It's not a branch or a bird and it's not anything good, either – or, at least your True Crime-loving mind knows it's not. You can't get enough of the chills inherent in real-life murder and mayhem, so why not read these great new True Crime books ...?

Adult true crime books from various publishers.

Stepping back in time (because murder is nothing new), “The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science” by Sam Kean (Little, Brown, $29.00) will give you plenty of fodder for fear. Read about the things done throughout history, supposedly for the sake of knowledge – things that resulted in a little learning, perhaps, but also a lot of horribleness. Shiver, shudder.

Also look for “The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream” by Dean Jobb (Algonquin, $27.95), the story of the hunt for a serial killer, back before most of the best methods of crime-solving were ever invented. It's got everything you want in a Victorian-era tale; if you're a Sherlock Holmes fan, take note.

Did you ever wonder what happens to a murderer if he's found “not criminally responsible”? In “Couple Found Slain: After a Family Murder” by Mikita Brottman (Henry Holt, $27.99) you'll read one man's tale. Life in a maximum security psychiatric facility is not what you think it is; it's every bit as gritty as prison, and there are just as many dangers, as you'll see. This unique look at a different kind of lockdown is a must-read for anyone who particularly relishes True Crime books with a prison slant.

And while you're getting that book, look for “The Devil You Know: Stories of Human Cruelty and Compassion” by Dr. Gwen Adshead and Eileen Horne (Scribner, $28.00). Dr. Adshead is a forensic psychiatrist who works with the incarcerated as a therapist, and this book presents stories of crime and the ability of some criminals to change. It's a hard book to read – many of the tales here are brutal and cringe-worthy – but they may ultimately change your personal definition of the word “evil.”

And finally, here's a True Crime book that's aimed at you: “'I Have Nothing to Hide” by Heidi Boghosian (Beacon Press, $16.00).

It should come as no surprise that you are being watched, maybe even right now. Your phone tattles on your, your computer is a snitch, even just having a credit card, owning a house, almost everything you do in today's world means information that's up for grabs. But what, exactly, do you know about electronic surveillance, privacy, and who might be spying on you this very minute?

If that's a sobering question, you owe it to yourself to let this expert set you straight.

And, as always, if these brand-new True Crime books don't quite fill the bill for you, be sure to ask your favorite bookseller or librarian for any suggestions they might have. There are a lot more books out there, a lot of them you'll simply click with.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.