With the Devil’s Help: A True Story of Poverty, Mental Illness, and Murder

by Neal Wooten


SYNOPSIS – In the tradition of The Glass Castle, Educated, and Heartland, Neal Wooten traces five decades of his dirt-poor, Alabama mountain family as the years and secrets coalesce.

Neal Wooten grew up in a tiny community atop Sand Mountain, Alabama, where everyone was white and everyone was poor. Prohibition was still embraced. If you wanted alcohol, you had to drive to Georgia or ask the bootlegger sitting next to you in church. Tent revivals, snake handlers, and sacred harp music were the norm, and everyone was welcome as long as you weren’t Black, brown, gay, atheist, Muslim, a damn Yankee, or a Tennessee Vol fan.

The Wooten’s lived a secret existence in a shack in the woods with no running water, no insulation, and almost no electricity. Even the school bus and mail carrier wouldn’t go there. Neal’s family could hide where they were, but not what they were. They were poor white trash. Cops could see it. Teachers could see it. Everyone could see it.

Growing up, Neal was weaned on folklore legends of his grandfather—his quick wit, quick feet, and quick temper.  He discovers how this volatile disposition led to a murder, a conviction, and ultimately to a daring prison escape and a closely guarded family secret.

Being followed by a black car with men in black suits was as normal to Neal as using an outhouse, carrying drinking water from a stream, and doing homework by the light of a kerosene lamp. And Neal’s father, having inherited the very same traits of his father, made sure the frigid mountain winters weren’t the most brutal thing his family faced.

Told from two perspectives, this story alternates between Neal’s life and his grandfather’s, culminating in a shocking revelation. Take a journey to the Deep South and learn what it’s like to be born on the wrong side of the tracks, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of a violent mental illness.


MY THOUGHTS – I enjoyed this read, but can’t help but feel that either I or my Kindle missed part of it. I was still confused at the end, so I may have to try a re-read to get the full story this time.



PUBLISHER – Pegasus Crime – 319 pages

PUBLICATION DATE – Sep 6th, 2022

MY RATING – 4/5 STARS


ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Neal Wooten grew up on a pig farm on Sand Mountain in the northeast corner of Alabama. The first person in the history of his family to graduate from high school, Neal went on to graduate from Auburn University with a B.S. in applied mathematics. He became a math teacher and director of a math school in Milwaukee, winning numerous math awards.  He is now the Managing Editor for Mirror Publishing, a contributor to the Huffington Post, columnist for The Mountain Valley News, curator of the Fort Payne Depot Museum, creator of the popular Facebook comic strip “Brad’s Pit,” and standup comedian.


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