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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

The Devil at His Elbow

Alex Murdaugh and the Fall of a Southern Dynasty

ISBN: 9780593500583

Publisher: Random House | Ballantine Books

Publication Date: 08/20/2024

Format: Other

My Rating: TBR (ARC)

“Valerie Bauerlein’s blistering, unforgettable account of the Murdaugh saga leaves no stone unturned, helping us finally truly understand the man at the center of one of the century’s wildest crime stories.”—Robert Kolker, author of Hidden Valley Road and Lost Girls

Power, privilege, and blood—this is the definitive and thrilling true story of Alex Murdaugh’s violent downfall, from a veteran Wall Street Journal reporter who has become an authority on the case.

Alex Murdaugh was a benevolent dictator—the president of the South Carolina trial lawyers’ association, a political boss, a part-time prosecutor, and a partner in his family’s law firm. He was always ready with a favor, a drink, and an invitation to Moselle, his family’s 1,700-acre hunting estate. The Murdaugh name ignited respect—and fear—for a hundred miles.

When he murdered his wife, Maggie, and son Paul at Moselle on a dark summer night, the fragile façade of Alex’s world could no longer hold. His forefathers had covered up a midnight suicide at a remote railroad crossing, a bootlegging ring run from a courthouse, and the attempted murder of a pregnant lover. Alex, too, almost walked away from his unspeakable crimes with his reputation intact, but his downfall was secured by a twist of fate, some stray mistakes, and a fateful decision by an old friend who’d finally seen enough.

Why would a man who had everything kill his wife and grown son? To unwind the roots of Alex’s ruin, award-winning journalist Valerie Bauerlein reported not just from the courthouse every day but also along the backroads and through the tidal marshes of South Carolina’s Lowcountry. When the jurors made their pilgrimage to the crime scene, trying to envision Maggie and Paul’s last moments, she walked right behind them, sensing the ghosts that haunt the Murdaughs’ now-shattered legacy.

Through masterful research and cinematic writing, The Devil at His Elbow is a transporting journey through Alex’s life, the night of the murders, and the investigation that culminated in a trial that held tens of millions spellbound. With her stunning insights and fearless instinct for the truth, Bauerlein uncovers layers of the Murdaugh murder case that have not been told.


“When Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood, he had the story of the Clutter slayings all to himself. With The Devil at His Elbow, Valerie Bauerlein has achieved something far more difficult journalistically: Despite wall-to-wall media coverage, she’s managed to produce the definitive account of the Murdaugh murders. Forget the podcasts, the TV specials, and the documentaries—this is the version of the story you’ll want to read. And once you pick it up, you won’t be able to put it down.”

—John Carreyrou, Pulitzer Prize–winner and bestselling author of Bad Blood

“It’s all here: the audacity and the deceit, the desperation and the calculation, a family’s unbelievable legacy of utter venality. Valerie Bauerlein’s blistering, unforgettable account of the Murdaugh saga leaves no stone unturned, helping us finally truly understand the man at the center of one of the century’s wildest crime stories.”

—Robert Kolker, author of Hidden Valley Road and Lost Girls

“With The Devil at His Elbow, Valerie Bauerlein delivers a riveting story that explores the abuse of power and the human heart of darkness. This is an electrifying, horrifying tale, expertly reported and written.”

—Jonathan Eig, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning King: A Life

“Brilliant . . . If Faulkner and Grisham had collaborated on a true crime story, Bauerlein’s masterpiece would be the result.”

—William D. Cohan, author of Power Failure

“Sweeping in scope and brilliantly rendered . . . No one else could have approached the clarity and confidence with which Bauerlein writes.”

—Bronwen Dickey, author of Pit Bull

“A compulsively readable, deeply researched epic of deceit, murder, and unchecked power . . . a master class in crime journalism.”

—Christopher Goffard, author of Dirty John and Other True Stories of Outlaws and Outsiders

“A haunting journey through time and across generations of Murdaugh men, probing the unresolved deaths that linger in the orbit of Alex Murdaugh’s power.”

—Jennifer Berry Hawes, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Grace Will Lead Us Home

“A page-turner . . . Bauerlein offers fresh details that expose the dark heart of a psychopath.”

—Kathleen Parker, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Save the Males

About the Author

Valerie Bauerlein is a national reporter who writes about small-town America and Southern politics, economics and culture. She has covered the South Carolina presidential primaries in 2008, 2012 and 2016 for The Wall Street Journal. She has also covered natural and manmade disasters, from Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast to the mass slayings at Emanuel Church in Charleston. She has written features about Nascar, roller coasters, mountain men, beauty pageants and Waffle House. Previously, Ms. Bauerlein covered Coke, Pepsi and the beverage and snack industry for the Journal. She also covered Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Wachovia and other regional banks from their acquisition tear in 2005 to the crash in 2008. Ms. Bauerlein graduated from Duke University. Before joining the Journal in 2005, she worked as a congressional correspondent for the News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), a legislative reporter at The State (Columbia, S.C.) and a cops reporter at the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal. To contact Ms. Bauerlein, email Follow her on Twitter: @vbauerlein

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