All-American Murder: The Rise and Fall of Aaron Hernandez, the Superstar Whose Life Ended on Murders’ Row, by James Patterson, Alex Abramovich, and Mike Harvkey

Eight stars

Capitalising on some ‘pulled from the headlines’ impetus, James Patterson collaborates with Alex Abramovich and Mike Harvkey to bring readers into the troubled life of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez, exploring his rise to fame before he stumbled and crashed into a legal quagmire that would eventually lead to his suicide in 2017. While football may not have been the first thing people considered when mentioning Connecticut, anyone who had heard of Aaron Hernandez might feel differently. A powerhouse in high school, Hernandez excelled both on the field and along the basketball court. His phenomenal rise to fame saw college scouts attending many of his games, hoping to secure his talents with lucrative financial offers. However, Hernandez was not all about football in his small community. Both he and members of his family had ties to gangs and drug dealers, something that Hernandez used to his advantage throughout his high school career. After graduating at seventeen, Hernandez made the leap to college ball, choosing the University of Florida over local UConn, where he obtained an early taste of stardom. He could walk around town and be noticed, receiving freebies at every turn. Additionally, he could waltz into clubs and be the centre of attention, though this might sometimes lead to a flair in that Puerto Rican temper for which he was so well known back home. After numerous dust-ups and shady ties to local dealers, Hernandez began to subsist in a life away from football, where guns, weed, and other illicit items crossed his path on a daily basis. Still, as a star player, some of his failed drug tests were swept under the rug so that Hernandez could remain on the field. When it was time for the NFL Draft, Hernandez went in a later round, much to his dismay, but was chosen by the illustrious New England Patriots, a team on the verge of creating a dynastic powerhouse. His playing days were filled with receptions and his star continued to rise, still being protected by the team. However, Hernandez began to run in some very troubling circles, dodging being fingered at brawls and shootings by mere minutes. When a disagreement with an acquaintance went too far and the man lay dead from gunshot wounds, Henandez ended up with literal blood all over his hands and tried to play it cool, only to lead police to his doorstep. In a shocking revelation, the sports world was abuzz when Aaron Hernandez was arrested for murder, forcing the NFL and Patriots to rush in the other direction, their attempt to disassociate with him at soon as possible. Hernandez left evidence at the scene and created a tepid alibi soon dispelled by the prosecutor. Stunned, football fans watched as Hernandez went to trial for over two months before a verdict came in. From there, the spiral down seemed never-ending, with an abyss awaiting him, his future forever tarnished. While the NFL had dealt with many errant active players, the Aaron Hernandez situation might have been its largest stain to date. The authors run with this story and have created a wonderful read, easy for anyone with a passing interest to digest. Less the traditional Patterson fare, but still highly entertaining and a great filler read.

I have noticed that Patterson has been busy as he branches out in many directions of late, tapping into the world of non-fictional crime to broaden his horizons. Working alongside Alex Abramovich—a collaborator on some of his BookShot short pieces—and Mike Harvkey, Patterson brings to life this second famous individual who found a life of crime too tempting to leave on the shelf. Aaron Hernandez is the central character, obviously, and his rise to fame is shown effectively in the early parts of the book, as this young phenom gets an early taste of the limelight. His play on the field could not be discounted, even if individuals knew all about his extra-curricular activities. However, this quick intoxication and seeming ‘untouchable’ status is shown as the book progresses, allowing the reader to revel in the continues foibles. The authors illustrate this on numerous occasions as the reader can see red flags popping up throughout. The narrative builds effectively, offering the reader more detail with each chapter—short, in the Patterson style—and culminates in Hernandez’s personal realisation that he had lost it all, though the epilogue does open a new set of questions. The writing style is effective in a non-fiction sense and keeps the reader wanting more, without getting too outlandish. There are a significant number of facts layered throughout, though the pile is not overwhelming and permits the reader to digest it all. The impact of this helps push the story through to the end, attempting to secure the reader’s belief that Hernandez was guilty and deserved his incarceration. Unfortunately, in a way, there are many superstars whose lives could be detailed in such a book, leaving me to hope that Patterson will find more to publish in the years to come.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Abramovich, and Harvkey. This was an wonderfully entertaining piece and I hope more collaborations will permit readers to see other cases like this receiving their time in the spotlight.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Murder, Interrupted (True Crime Thrillers, Volume #1), by James Patterson, Alex Abramovich, and Christopher Charles

Eight stars

While James Patterson has made a name for himself with his BookShots collection—a series of short stories the reader can complete in a few hours—he seems to always be expanding his horizons. Apparently having secured some television rights to a murder-based true-crime show, Patterson has also spun some of the tales into shorter stories, much like the aforementioned BookShots. While I am on my BookShot binge, I thought that I would include at least the first volume in my binge read, as they are short enough to be defined as BookShots, even though they are somewhat fictionalised pieces of true crime. These stories will capture the reader’s attention, more so because they actually happened, with a few fudged facts to provide anonymity. Sit back and enjoy, as Patterson and his two collaborators in these stories show just how far some people will go to harm those closest to them.

Murder, Interrupted (with Alex Abramovich)

Nancy Howard’s been shot gruesomely through the eye with the bullet’s trajectory headed for her brain. The mysterious man who did this is unknown to her, but her first concern is calling out for help. Moving the story backwards a bit, the reader learns of Nancy’s husband, Frank, is a successful accountant with a penchant for having sticking fingers. He’s also having quite the affair, but does not want to divorce his wife, as it might tarnish his image. Frank takes matters into his own hands by hiring a strung-out addict to act as a hitman, but things take many odd turns, leaving Frank wondering if he will ever be rid of his wife, so that he can fully focus on his new life in California. As the story moves forward, the reader sees Frank’s attempts to ensure the hit goes as planned, but Nancy is able to call for help, leading to an investigation and fingers pointing in all directions. Sometimes, allowing the blood to leave the brain for other regions proves fatal for those who concoct revenge plots. Patterson and Abramovich open the collection with this interesting story that will have readers shaking their heads as they fly through the chapters.

Mother of all Murders (with Christopher Charles)

Single mother Dee Dee Blancharde has made quite a name for herself in the Missouri community she now calls home. Her daughter, Gypsy, hands many health concerns and after they were forced out of New Orleans, it was the kindness of the community that helped provide a much needed crutch. When one of Gypsy’s friends receives a disturbing Facebook message, the authorities are called to the house, where Dee Dee is dead and Gypsy is nowhere to be found. As detectives try to piece things together, the reader is permitted a thorough look into the backstory of both Blancharde women, including the countless ailments that Gypsy has suffered over the years. When a link to a dating site proves to be a strong clue to better understand what might have happened to Gypsy, detectives soon realise that there is so much more to the story than meets the eye. Patterson and Charles provide wonderful twists in this story based on actual events. The reader will surely enjoy the build of momentum throughout.

Both of these stories were the perfect fit for this first volume. Murder comes in all shapes and forms, but it is sometimes the glaring errors of the perpetrators that serve as the most entertaining aspect of any story. The key characters from both stories provide wonderful backstories and development throughout their appearances on the printed page. The reader can connect with them, which aids in better understanding the cases and fallout from the criminal acts. While these are true events with a fictional flavour, the stories read well and all characters found herein, while not fleshed out as effectively as in a piece of complete fiction, serve a great purpose and help to accentuate the different angles of the crime. These brief pieces could easily be called BookShots, with their short chapters and the story arc taking only one hundred pages or so. I am eager to tackle the second volume of this collection, though am not sure if I will hunt down the television program, as I like Patterson in small doses (which I am sure I contradict, having almost completed my month-long BookShot binge).

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Abramovich, and Charles. Your stories kept me hooked from the beginning and I love how they were presented. Perfectly crafted for an afternoon of reading, much like many of the short stories collaborations Patterson has undertaken.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: