Review: The Book of Matt

Posted October 2, 2013 by Whitney in Review / 0 Comments

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Book of MattThe Book of Matt
Author Stephen Jimenez
Publisher Steerforth Press
Publication Date September 24, 2013
Genre: True Crime
Source: Netgalley
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What role did crystal meth and other previously underreported factors play in the brutal murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard? The Book of Matt is a page-turning cautionary tale that humanizes and de-mythologizes Matthew while following the evidence where it leads, without regard to the politics that have long attended this American tragedy.

Late on the night of October 6, 1998, twenty-one-year-old Matthew Shepard left a bar in Laramie, Wyoming with two alleged “strangers,” Aaron McKin­ney and Russell Henderson. Eighteen hours later, Matthew was found tied to a log fence on the outskirts of town, unconscious and barely alive. He had been pistol-whipped so severely that the mountain biker who discovered his battered frame mistook him for a Halloween scarecrow. Overnight, a politically expedient myth took the place of important facts. By the time Matthew died a few days later, his name was synonymous with anti-gay hate.

Stephen Jimenez went to Laramie to research the story of Matthew Shepard’s murder in 2000, after the two men convicted of killing him had gone to prison, and after the national media had moved on. His aim was to write a screenplay on what he, and the rest of the nation, believed to be an open-and-shut case of bigoted violence. As a gay man, he felt an added moral imperative to tell Matthew’s story. But what Jimenez eventually found in Wyoming was a tangled web of secrets. His exhaustive investigation also plunged him deep into the deadly underworld of drug trafficking. Over the course of a thirteen-year investigation, Jimenez traveled to twenty states and Washington DC, and interviewed more than a hundred named sources.

The Book of Matt is sure to stir passions and inspire dialogue as it re-frames this misconstrued crime and its cast of characters, proving irrefutably that Matthew Shepard was not killed for being gay but for reasons far more complicated — and daunting.

I was thirteen at the time of Matthew Shepard’s murder thus this crime was not even on my radar.

That having been said, it took me several days to write this review if only to see it level-headed.  There was so much to absorb.  The one consistency throughout the book is how Matthew died, but the question I feel The Book of Matt asked was why.

While I was reading Stephen Jimenez’s book I was reminded of Dave Cullen’s Columbine.  This is because in both books the author debunks certain myths of the assault.  In Columbine, Cassie Bernell professed her belief in God seconds before she dies.  Matthew Shepard’s hate crime struck a sympathetic cord with people.    Both became martyrs overnight.  Couldn’t we let it lie if only for their parent’s sake?  Then again, is it worse to let it fester?  I think it is a matter of what people want to believe.

I think a prime example is a discussion I was having with my mother on books we were  reading.  All I had to say was “I’m reading a book on Matthew Shepard” and she immediately cut me off stating “the anti-gay hate crime.”  It is what the media has put out there, therefore it must be true.

Jimenez leads us to the conclusion that it was not a hate crime but rather a cover-up for a drug related crime.  The first conclusion being a telephone game, shrinking in truth as it goes around the circle.

I was amazed by the vast amount of information the author laid out for the reader both leading up to and the aftermath of Matthew’s killing.  With multiple interviews brimming with information, it was enough to take me for a spin.  Although, despite the plethora of knowledge several of the interviewees chose to remain anonymous, and while I realize that was their choice it sometimes had me question their reliability.  In any event, it was all very eye-opening.

Another thing I noticed is that the author draws a picture of Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson portraying them as people rather than the criminals they are.  It was very Truman Capote style.

My conclusion?  I feel that evidence was “misplaced” and methamphetamine did play a role.  Perhaps a hate crime was easier to explain?  Although I’ve never understood why you don’t call a spade a spade.

The one truth I am certain of is that on October 6, 1998 Matthew Shepard was heinously killed, no matter what the motive that cannot be changed.


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