Combining original reporting and interviews with already-available material – including police and court documents, and verified news reports – All American Murder investigates the life, crimes, and eventual death of NFL superstar Aaron Hernandez.
I’ll be straight up honest: I’d never heard of Aaron Hernandez before all the news stories started to break in the summer of 2013. I’m not a massive NFL fan, so my knowledge does not really expand beyond players named Brady or Manning.
But … I was fucking hooked on all the stories relating to Hernandez and his crime(s). We’ve all come to accept elite-level sport as being morally bankrupt – corruption, infidelity, greed, general bad behaviour, etc have become part and parcel of sports since the influx of financial riches. But murder? Fucking murder?
I found it all so fascinating. How could the life of a supremely talented and wealthy superstar athlete unravel to the point where it ends in suicide at the age of 27, in a prison cell, while serving a life sentence for murder?
So when James Patterson published All American Murder, promising to reveal even more to the Hernandez story than was already known, of course I had to read it.
All American Murder starts, quite literally, at the scene of the crime, when a high-school football player jogging home on June 17, 2013 comes across a body near an industrial site in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. Police determine the death was caused by homicide and the car keys found on the man were for a rental car in the name of … Aaron Hernandez.
With the crime committed and the scene set, Patterson then takes us back in time – to Hernandez’s high-school days as we start to learn about the book’s protagonist and start to trace over the life that led to that fatal moment and beyond.
There is a never-ending debate over whether we are products of nature of nurture. Most people would probably argue it’s a bit of both. How much of Hernandez’s fate is down to genetics we’ll never know, but Patterson reveals plenty of life events and choices that were sure to shape Hernandez into the man he would become: the resentment of his mother over an affair, his decision not to follow his older brother DJ to UConn, hanging out with less-than-savoury characters, his drug use, the accommodating culture of the Florida Gators – all of these were sure to play their part.
However, after reading All American Murder and learning about Hernandez’s turbulent and unstable personality, you are left with the feeling that one event above all shaped the course of his life – the untimely death of his father. It’s a feeling that is left with you throughout the book and whenever Hernandez finds himself going wayward.
Patterson also looks at the effects CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, may have had on Hernandez and his actions, and while studies showed Hernandez’s brain to be “totally mangled”, Patterson points out that “many professional athletes suffer from CTE. Very few commit murder.”
All American Murder is written in typical Patterson style. It is fast-paced and captivating as Patterson uses his unrivalled skills as a crime writer to build tension, ending most chapters on cliff-hangers and leaving the reader no choice but to turn the page.
Patterson puts us in the thick of the action. You are fully immersed in Hernandez’s world – the good and the bad. And there is some good. His breakthrough and early success in the NFL, and the birth of his daughter are happier times for the troubled athlete. But there is plenty of bad, which ultimately climaxes with the murder of Lloyd.
Patterson also gives himself a not-so-subtle plug when revealing Hernandez became a fan of his Alex Cross books while serving time. It was a little anecdote that I found quite amusing.
A few contentious aspects to All American Murder to watch out for. Patterson makes us present for three incidents from which Hernandez was acquitted – a 2007 shooting in Gainsville, a 2012 double homicide in Boston, and the 2013 shooting in Miami of Alexander Bradley. Patterson essentially puts Hernandez at the centre of two of them, while his involvement in the other is inferred.
While evidence and eye witness accounts suggest it is more than likely Hernandez was involved in these crimes, the fact he was never found guilty must be taken into account.
All American Murder is a riveting read, so much so I finished it in one day, and Patterson’s uncomplicated, fast-paced style suits the narrative perfectly. A captivating, shocking true-crime story that delves into the world of one of America’s most troubled athletes.
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