Thursday, April 19, 2018

Vulgar Favors: The Assassination of Gianni Versace by Maureen Orth

Vulgar Favors: The Assassination of Gianni Versace by Maureen Orth
Release Date - March 9, 1999
Publisher Website - Penguin Random House Canada
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages -  560 pages
My Rating - 4/5

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
Two months before Gianni Versace was murdered on the steps of his Miami Beach mansion by Andrew Cunanan, award-winning journalist Maureen Orth was investigating a major story on the serial killer for Vanity Fair. Culled from interviews with more than four hundred people and insights from thousands of pages of police reports, Orth tells the complete story of Cunanan, his unwitting victims, and the moneyed, hedonistic world in which they lived . . . and died.

In fascinating detail, she reveals how Cunanan met his superstar victim, why police and the FBI repeatedly failed to catch Cunanan, and why other victims' families stonewalled the investigation, as well as the controversial findings of the Versace autopsy report. Here is a gripping odyssey that races across America--from California's wealthy gay underworld to modest Midwestern homes of families mourning the loss of their sons to South Beach and its unapologetic decadence. Vulgar Favors is at once a masterwork of investigative journalism and a riveting account of a sociopath, his crimes, and the mysteries he left along the way.
A novel about the crimes committed by Andrew Cunanan seems like it would be almost impossible to write. There are so many people who were reluctant to talk, so many lies and half truths that were told, and rumours that spread like wildfire. It makes getting to the truth extremely difficult. Maureen Orth's book gives, what I consider to be, the most researched detailing of events while still acknowledging how much will always remain unknown.

I was, of course, aware of the fact that someone shot Gianni Versace outside his home. Those were almost the only details I did know before looking deeper into this case. I did not know that Jeffrey Trail, David Madson, Lee Miglin, and William Reese were also victims. I didn't know that Andrew Cunanan had killed anyone other than Gianni Versace. This part of the story was an eye opener for me. I couldn't believe that four men had died and it wasn't something that was well known. Each of the victims are given a chapter entirely devoted to them in this book. They each get, what I feel is, a respectful look at who they were. They are given the attention they deserve and the loss of these five men is hammered home. The potential each of them left behind, and the loved ones who mourn them are palpable.

Andrew Cunanan was a skilled liar. It was pretty much his defining personality trait. He wove elaborate tales of self grandeur, and his story changed to suit whatever his current agenda was. He was narcissistic, and felt entitled to things without working for them. The fact remains that it seems like nobody really knew the real Andrew Cunanan. The motivations for his crimes are unknown, but as more details of what we do know to be true about him are revealed, you can speculate as to what sent him down this murderous path. There is a sympathy to some of the elements in Andrew's life, but those are instantly stripped away when he commits his first murder. I feel that Maureen Orth does a wonderful job of balancing this in her exploration of Andrew and his crimes.

There is a political heartbeat that thrums in the background of this novel. The OJ Simpson trail and backlash was ever present in the minds of those attempting to apprehend Andrew Cunanan. This is often referred to as 'the largest failed manhunt in US history' and that seems pretty accurate. There were times that Andrew should have been apprehended during his murder spree, and things that should have been done that would have assisted in him being caught much sooner. The larger commentary is one of homophobia in both the police force, FBI (and etc) and in the media itself. It was what allowed for the identification of Jeffrey Trail's body to take as long as it did, it is what allowed for the 'gay love triangle' story to be perpetuated as long as it was, and what allowed David Madson to be considered a suspect for as long as he was. These two driving forces both played a part in what allowed Andrew to remain at large, even though he wasn't necessarily hiding.

Maureen Orth's journalism background is evident throughout this entire book. She has sifted through all of the lies, rumours and innuendo to focus only on the elements she could confirm through multiple sources. The sad reality is that there are so many things that can only be speculated on. The novel does a perfect job of balancing the facts she felt she could corroborate and making an educated reasoning based on her findings. Maureen's writing makes it glaringly evident when she believes in someone's account of events, and when she thinks someone is embellishing or lying outright. This, to me, made the story feel balanced. It's a crushing reality that the only people who know the absolute truth of some of the events are dead, and therefore unable to speak for themselves. It is what, in my opinion, makes this case so fascinating. There is so much that is ripe for gossip and speculation that it takes on a life of its own.

I have seen some criticism of the gay scene that Andrew inhabited and how it is represented. I feel that it is made evident that this isn't representative of the entire gay population, but instead reflects the lifestyle Andrew was part of. He was (arguably) a drug user and dealer who was also possibly an escort. He ran in circles where drug use was common and spent his nights partying. The older men he was involved with are presented as affluential and far removed from the lifestyle Andrew was part of. The other criticism is Maureen's research not always meshing with the facts put forth by the families of the victims. I, personally, felt Maureen cited her sources clearly, and plainly. She also includes the families version of events, and clearly indicates her personal beliefs as exactly that. It read as fair, balanced reporting to me with some personal commentary woven in, and that allows for the reader to draw their own conclusions. This uncertainty was always going to be a reasonable part of a case like this where so much is unknown.

This is a story that goes deeper than just the assassination of a famous designer. There are so many layers to pull back, so many unanswered questions, and ultimately a lot of grief left behind. Maureen Orth respectfully tells the story of the victims, and shines a light on the man who was their murderer. If you're interested in a true crime read that will leave you plenty to discuss with fellow enthusiasts I highly recommend this one. 

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