"The Murderer's Son" by Joseph Herr (J & S Publishing, $17.99) is an unusual book by the son of a convicted murderer.
It's not fiction, but instead is an intriguing memoir of a boy who grew up in Lansing while his father was serving time in Jackson State Prison.
Richard Herr, Joseph's father, was convicted for the brutal 1966 slaying of pretty housewife Betty Reynolds, in Grand Ledge. Richard Herr pled guilty and in 1967 was sentenced to 25 to 40 years in prison. He later claimed that he didn't commit the crime and had bad legal representation.
Richard served 12 years in prison before being paroled; he later remarried, successfully sold cars around the country, and moved to Arizona.
According to his self-published 2011 autobiography "Inside-Outside (to be continued...)," after entering the penitentiary, Richard Herr soon controlled Jackon State Prison's drugs, gambling, and protection rackets.
His son, meanwhile, was growing up as the son of a convicted murderer, facing continual taunts and being bullied as he went to Bingham Elementary School, Resurrection and Eastern High School.
Joseph relates a variety of experiences about growing up in Lansing and his perseverance; he examines his divorced mother's devotion to her husband.
He explores his relationship with her father, Paul "Harry" DeRose, who ran a local nightclub called Amedeo's, who paid for much of Richard's legal defense.
Joseph felt so strongly about his grandfather's positive influence, he legally changed his last name to DeRose when he turned 18.
Joseph Herr also corrects inaccuracies he feels were made in "Inside-Outside," offering police reports and courtroom testimony verbatim to back him up. He supplies realistic observations on how the Reynolds murder may have taken place and his father's involvement.
In a time before DNA testing was created, the police had enough evidence to link Richard to the bloody crime; if he had not pled guilty, his father would very likely have received a life sentence.
Richard recently received notoriety when it was revealed that he was serving as Santa Claus in a "Toys for Tots" program in Arizona.
"The Murderer's Son" is an intriguing look at a strong-willed survivor who challenges his father's views and wants to set the record straight.
Joseph Herr's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop, has reviewed books regularly since 1987.
This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on January 13. 2013.