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Shot in the Heart

4.17  ·  Rating Details ·  2,437 Ratings  ·  231 Reviews
Gary Gilmore, the infamous murderer immortalized by Norman Mailer in The Executioner's Song, campaigned for his own death and was executed by firing squad in 1977. Writer Mikal Gilmore is his younger brother. In Shot in the Heart, he tells the stunning story of their wildly dysfunctional family: their mother, a blacksheep daughter of unforgiving Mormon farmers; their fathe ...more
Kindle Edition, 418 pages
Published September 23rd 2009 by Anchor (first published 1994)
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Community Reviews

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Jul 12, 2011 Mariel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the sweet smell of success
Recommended to Mariel by: my knuckle sandwiches say love and death
Mikal Gilmore was the "saved" son. Born after the restless years in the ditches of the back roads of America, running only to beat out another day, like stretching a junk yard car past empty to see how long it'll still go. Saved and kicked out of the family for his own good, because he could be too good, if he was lucky. It doesn't really feel good, or lucky. Second son Gary became famous for wishing his execution to be carried out (coughs as famously written about in Norman Mailer's book The Ex ...more
Apr 26, 2014 Shaun rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A little disjointed at times but overall a compelling narrative of Gary Gilmore, the first man to be executed in the US after the death penalty was reinstated. (The death penalty had been deemed "cruel and unusual" punishment by a 1972 ruling, but a new ruling by the US Supreme Court in 1976 upheld new death penalty statutes.)

I haven't read The Executioner's Song, though I've since ordered it, so I'm not sure how this compares. I have to believe that being written by Gary Gilmore's brother (the
Oct 20, 2010 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-years-ago
One of a handful of nonfiction works I will always remember, as if it is branded inside of me, I keep Shot in the Heart on the shelf alongside James Ellroy's My Dark Places--made me understand in many ways the darkest heart of America. Mikal Gilmore tells the story of his murderer brother, Gary Gilmore, the last person executed by firing squad in America, for the murder of two hotel clerks in Provo Utah, which he demanded, as a way of 'blood atonement'--part of the family's strict Mormon code. A ...more
Oct 01, 2011 Nnedi rated it it was amazing
Chilling, disturbing, and very well-told. Executioner's Song was over a thousand pages and a wonderful book. Nevertheless, it somehow managed to tell less than half the story. I'm really glad I read this right after. Now I get it. Now I see. Gary Gilmore wasn't just some crazy man (which makes his violence that much more horrifying and sick). What he did was practically inevitable. It could have been so much worse. He is a prime example of the failure of America's prison and Capital Punishment s ...more
Peter Landau
Apr 24, 2016 Peter Landau rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There was a time when I was obsessed with finding a truly scary novel, something that wasn’t merely shocking, but crept under the skin and freaked me out at my core. I never found one until now. The memoir SHOT IN THE HEART by Mikal Gilmore, the younger brother of Gary Gilmore, the convicted killer who made the State of Utah carry out the death penalty it had sentenced him, reads like that gothic novel I had been searching for. There are ghosts and dark dreams, violence and bloodletting religion ...more
Mar 20, 2012 Zarb rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was a bit hesitant to read this one, mainly because I'm wary of books by authors who draw their legitimacy mainly from just being close to events that capture the public imagination. Most of us are not great writers, or even good ones and thus when a book turns up in a fashion that suggests a publisher is here to cash in on popular culture, rather than support a talent, I want little to do with it. Funnily enough now that I rave about this book to others I often see the same wariness frosting ...more
Feb 11, 2008 Andy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You think you have a messed up family? Well, you probably do, but I can pretty much guarantee it's not as messed up as Mikal Gilmore's family. This book describes what it was like to grow up as the younger brother of Gary Gilmore.

This book was really good, and I think Mikal Gilmore is an awesome author. The only reason that I gave it three stars instead of four was that it was pretty heavy on the psychoanalysis of the Gilmore family dynamic. Sometimes it just got to be too much. (P.S. I ended up
This will book always be my favorite nonfiction book,but just like Sophie's Choice it will break my heart each time,but unlike Sophie's Choice this book has real live, breathing, people who paved the road with pain, blood, and heartache. This nonfiction book reads like a novel every time I read this book I have a hard time putting it down and lose track of time. A masterpiece of the depressing,soul tearing, kind.
Years ago, I devoured the gigantic Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer in a weekend. Gary Gilmore's story as Mailer told it was heart-wrenching and involving. I picked up Shot in the Heart to see what Mikal Gilmore could add to the story. The answer is both a lot and not much.

Mikal was the youngest of the four Gilmore boys, with a 6-year gap between him and the next-youngest, Gaylen. Mikal's memories start well after Gary's life had started down a hard path; in fact, his first memory of Gary is
Tim Healy
Sep 07, 2012 Tim Healy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - Leo Tolstoy

When I started this book, I expected it to be a memoir of Gary Gilmore's life and death written by his brother Mikal. I was only kind of right, which is just a different way to say I was wrong. What Gilmore has done is both more difficult, and I believe more painful.

Mikal is a good writer of non-fiction. He's clear and concise without skimping on detail. He knows a lot of the details here first-hand, and
Jan 09, 2013 Isobel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just finished reading this memoir for the second time. I haven't read many books twice, but reading this once did not give me chance enough to really absorb the breadth of it, and I had not stopped thinking about it for years. It is a story of two brutal murders; to a greater degree it is an exploration of the importance of family and the power of family history.
Nathaniel Dean
I hate the fact that I'm forced to like this book for its message and poignancy. If it was 200 pages and stripped of Mikal's over-melancholic dramatization I would have given it 4 stars. Also this book shouldn't have been in true crime; leave that to The Executioner's Song or In Cold Blood. I'll write more on this later.
I was 12 years old when Gary Gilmore was executed in 1977. I had no idea at the time why this particular execution was so news worthy. Now 40 years later I read his brother Mikal's fascinating book about Gary's death and the long dysfunctional family history that probably contributed to his life of crime and violence. It turns out that Mikal is quite a talented writer.

I haven't read Mailer's The Executioners Song yet but I may down the road sometime. Maybe in 2019 on the 40th anniversary of its
Talulah Mankiller
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Stephen Durrant
Jan 21, 2009 Stephen Durrant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are many dysfunctional families (just slightly short of "all"), but the family described in this is dysfunctional with a capital DYS! Mikal Gilmore is the talented younger brother of Gary Gilmore, the first man executed in the United States after a ten-year U.S. moratorium on executions. Yes, Gary Gilmore was shot in the heart in 1977 in Utah, which maintained this form of execution until fairly recently so that murderers could atone for their terrible sin by shedding their own blood (hang ...more
Diann Blakely
Aug 29, 2011 Diann Blakely rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I had a “ten-best” list of memoirs, near the top would surely be Mikal Gilmore’s SHOT IN THE HEART, his searing account of growing up as Gary Gilmore’s brother. The two siblings lived parallel existences in the “blood-atonement” culture of the Mormon west, raised by two violent and abusive parents who seemed to hate not only each other, but at times, their own children. Gary Gilmore went on to gain notoriety as the first man to be executed after the reinstatement of the death penalty in this ...more
Feb 09, 2012 Karo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: manfic, memoir
I've approached writing this review with some hesitation -- I'm not quite sure what to say after having completed Shot in the Heart. I suppose that I should start off by saying that Gary Gilmore was put to death before I was born, and I've never read or seen The Executioner's Song, so this was a completely new topic to me. I picked the books up at a used book store because I'm a big fan of the memoir. Now that I've finished, I'm a little stunned. The life that Mikal describes as his childhood an ...more
Dec 10, 2016 Npaw rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I forgot that I even had this because I had bought it so long ago. I had also forgot that I had read and used some of Mikal's writing in my thesis (or maybe I just forgot that he was Gary Gilmore's brother because I thought of him as a music writer). It was crazy to read about his memory of the day of John Lennon murder on the anniversary of the same day.

After reading Just Mercy, this was/is the perfect compliment to what I had once thought of as a much more simple topic. My dad worked with Bre
Oct 25, 2014 Riley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really touching memoir by the brother of Gary Gilmore, the first person executed after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in 1976. Its picture of his family's dysfunction is a good reminder of just how horrible are the existences that some people are born into.

One passage I underlined, about the moral dilemmas that execution volunteers like Gilmore pose:

"But through it all, Gary remained fierce and unwavering in his determination to die -- he even tried his own han
Nov 22, 2015 Emma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mikal's mother believed in the spirits, believed that when she and her sister used a ouija board for the first time she bought unto her family a dark force that never left. Mikal does not believe in the spirits; he bought a ouija board and received no visitors. Yet this book is his ouija board; with it he has conjured every spirit imaginable from L Ron Hubbard on down, and all the letters are arranged to spell doom. The ghosts stalk every page, rattling their chains and howling their damnation. ...more
May 22, 2012 E rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-bio, 2012
When I was packing in anticipation of heading off to do my fieldwork I asked Miriam to select a few books for me to take along. She picked Shot in the Heart, which she's been after me to read for at least a year, and Lolita, one of her favourites and definitely the one she most loves to teach. It didn't occur to either of us that perhaps it wasn't the smartest idea to bring these two dark, disturbing books to serve as distractions from the unyielding cacophony that is Caracas, and indeed, spendi ...more
Jun 13, 2007 Heather rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: death-penalty
Gary Gilmore was the first person executed in the U.S. (Utah) after the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 (this book was written by Gilmore's brother). While this was an interesting read about Gilmore's life, throughout the book it was reiterated that the Mormon religion was somewhat to blame for Gilmore's outcome. Now, I'll be the first to say that I don't know much about the Mormon religion (I've been exposed to and have read about it, but that's the extent of my involvement), but the ...more
Stuart Chandler
Jun 30, 2011 Stuart Chandler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an amazing book. Mikal Gilmore was a writer for Rolling Stone when I read this. He writes the story about his brother, Gary Gilmore, who died of firing squad in the death penalty for murders he committed in Utah in the 70's. Because they were brothers, Mikal's account is extremely personal and insightful sharing the interesting and sad relationship with their parents...especially dad. It was an outstanding read if you enjoy stories about the human condition, even at its darkest moments. ...more
Feb 03, 2015 Jill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a book I found while browsing the shelves at the library. I don't recommend many books to people but this would certainly be one. Mikal Gilmore really touches on what it is like to be a part of a family ,however flawed. I can't imagine what it feels like to have a family member on death row, to experience such confusion and anger over something you had no control over. To look back at moments in your family history and understand them in a whole new light...
Stacey  D.
Dec 29, 2015 Stacey D. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
One of my favorite books and I just discovered I hadn't added it to my Goodreads list??!!. What? Tsk, tsk.

An excellent history of the Mormons, as relayed by the brother of Gary Gilmore, the first man to face execution in Utah since...The author weaves his family's tragic story - a tale of violence and sadness - and some weird surprises - with Joseph Smith's delivery of the Mormon faith. Truly fascinating.
Jun 15, 2012 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
Author, Mikal Gilmore, is the brother of the infamous Gary Gilmore, who I had not heard of but was the subject of "The Executioner's Song", which I have heard of but didn't know the details. A fascinating family story and well written, BUT I wanted more. This families history of violence, deception, running away, crime and familial love was interesting and could have been so much more if Gilmore would have given us more.
Dec 08, 2008 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was such an interesting look at the family life of Gary Gilmore as told by his brother, Mikal. His look into what may have made Gary do the things he did was so honest, well researched and well written that I had a hard time putting it down. One thing that does disturb me, though, is that it seems that this book and society as a whole try to justify a person's actions based on others, rather than accepting personal responsibility for their own choices. It really made me think.
Jun 20, 2012 Dawn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Dawn by: Ann Kingman - Yankee Book Swap!
Honest. Introspective. Heart-wrenching. Not always a pleasant story to read (I can't imagine what it was like to live) - but most definitely worth it.
Jan 17, 2017 Shawna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I discovered the story of Gary Gilmore for the first time in a tawdry bedraggled paperback about executed murderers way back when I was young teenager, fourteen, maybe fifteen. (Like the Gaylen Gilmore, I too became fascinated with executed criminals.) By sixteen I had plowed my way through "The Executioner's Song," and after that Gary Gilmore's story never really lost its hold over me. I had dreams about the man. I collected anecdotes about him. (Did you know that Gilmore and Ted Bundy were at ...more
Jill Meyer
Jun 04, 2017 Jill Meyer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first read Mikal Gilmore's memoir, "Shot in the Heart", when it was originally published in the middle 1990's. It was before ordinary readers were reviewing books, so I never reviewed it. However, I have just reread the book in the Kindle form and I want to let others know just how brilliant the book truly is.

Mikal Gilmore is the youngest brother of Gary Gilmore, a drifter and ne'er-do-well, who murdered in cold blood two young Mormon men in Salt Lake City, on two consecutive nights in the mid
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Mikal Gilmore was born "Michael Gilmore," but later changed the spelling of his name. He was born February 9, 1951 to Frank and Bessie Gilmore.

In 1977, Gilmore's brother Gary, a convicted murderer, was the first person executed after the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. Gary Gilmore was executed for shooting two young Mormons, Max Jensen and Ben Bushnell, in cold blood. He was executed by fir
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“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them. —OSCAR WILDE,” 1 likes
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