A rural physician learns that a former doctor at his clinic committed a shocking crime, leading him to uncover an undiagnosed mental health crisis in our broken prison system–a powerful true story expanding on one of the most popular This American Life episodes of all time.
Fresh out of medical residency, Dr. Benjamin Gilmer joined a rural North Carolina clinic only to find that its previous doctor shared his last name. Dr. Vince Gilmer was loved and respected by the community—right up until he strangled his ailing father and then returned to the clinic for a regular week of work. Vince’s eventual arrest for murder shocked his patients. Could their beloved doctor be capable of such violence? The deeper Benjamin looked into Vince’s case, the more he became obsessed with discovering what pushed a good man toward darkness.
When Benjamin visited Vince in prison, he met a man who appeared to be fighting his own mind, constantly twitching and veering into nonsensical tangents. Sentenced to life in prison, Vince had been branded a cold-blooded killer and a “malingerer”—a person who fakes an illness. But it was obvious to Benjamin that Vince needed help. Alongside This American Life journalist Sarah Koenig, Benjamin resolved to understand what had happened to his predecessor. Time and again, the pair came up against a prison system that cared little about the mental health of its inmates—despite more than a third of them suffering from mental illness.
The Other Dr. Gilmer takes readers on a thrilling and heart-wrenching journey through our shared human fallibility, made worse by a prison system that is failing our most vulnerable citizens. With deep compassion and an even deeper sense of justice, Dr. Benjamin Gilmer delves into the mystery of what could make a caring doctor commit a brutal murder. And in the process, his powerful story asks us to answer a profound question: In a country with the highest incarceration rates in the world, what would it look like if we prioritized healing rather than punishment?
I picked up The Other Dr. Gilmer for a nonfiction, sociology-focused bookclub that a friend hosts quarterly. I was excited to finally read and participate, but sadly, I ended up missing out on the discussion. Almost a month has passed since I finished the book, so I cannot promise my most in-depth review for this book.
The Other Dr. Gilmer is essentially the story of one doctor’s quest to save another from a justice system that is not equipped to deal with mental illness. I dove into this book blind, knowing little other than the title. The subtitle led me to believe that this book would be true crime, and I must say that was a bit misleading. Instead, The Other Dr. Gilmer is part memoir and part narrative nonfiction.
While I think the story of Dr. Vince Gilmer is an interesting one, I had a very difficult time liking the author, and thus, the narrative itself. The author is preachy and a bit self-righteous, despite his ignorance about the prison system and its treatment of mental illness. I have a difficult time imagining that the author would have actually cared about Vince had he not shared the same name, and therefore, the crime indirectly affecting him. (I will not even begin to dive into some of the problematic things the author said or his casual sexism.)
For someone who is already familiar with the prison system’s mental health crisis, I did not find much new information or insight here. I can see how those unfamiliar with the subject matter may find the details of this book shocking. However, I was unsatisfied with how little the subject was actually explored, particularly outside of Dr. Vince Gilmer’s case.
The big issue for me with The Other Dr. Gilmer goes back to the basis of the book and its narration. The author seemed to have a difficult time simply framing the story of Dr. Vince Gilmer with their own. Instead, there are large portions of this book that are focused on the author, taking away from the impact of the actual narrative. I could have done without the extraneous detail and meandering about his own life.
Overall, the story at the heart of The Other Dr. Gilmer is a strong, interesting one, but the author did a disservice in telling it. Instead of building a compelling narrative, the author provides a muddled tale that lacks focus and is filled with self-praise and saviorism.
The Other Dr. Gilmer: Two Men, a Murder, & an Unlikely Fight for Justice
Nonfiction: True Crime;
Humanities & Social Science
March 1, 2022