True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa

True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa

4.4 15
by Michael Finkel
     
 

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In the haunting tradition of Joe McGinniss's Fatal Vision and Mikal Gilmore's Shot in the Heart, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa weaves a spellbinding tale of murder, love, and deceit with a deeply personal inquiry into the slippery nature of truth.

The story begins in February of 2002, when a reporter in Oregon contacts

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Overview

In the haunting tradition of Joe McGinniss's Fatal Vision and Mikal Gilmore's Shot in the Heart, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa weaves a spellbinding tale of murder, love, and deceit with a deeply personal inquiry into the slippery nature of truth.

The story begins in February of 2002, when a reporter in Oregon contacts New York Times Magazine writer Michael Finkel with a startling piece of news. A young, highly intelligent man named Christian Longo, on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list for killing his entire family, has recently been captured in Mexico, where he'd taken on a new identity—Michael Finkel of the New York Times.

The next day, on page A-3 of the Times, comes another bit of troubling news: a note, written by the paper's editors, explaining that Finkel has falsified parts of an investigative article and has been fired. This unlikely confluence sets the stage for a bizarre and intense relationship. After Longo's arrest, the only journalist the accused murderer will speak with is the real Michael Finkel. And as the months until Longo's trial tick away, the two men talk for dozens of hours on the telephone, meet in the jailhouse visiting room, and exchange nearly a thousand pages of handwritten letters.

With Longo insisting he can prove his innocence, Finkel strives to uncover what really happened to Longo's family, and his quest becomes less a reporting job than a psychological cat-and-mouse game—sometimes redemptively honest, other times slyly manipulative. Finkel's pursuit pays off only at the end, when Longo, after a lifetime of deception, finally says what he wouldn't even admit in court—the whole, true story. Or so it seems.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 2001, Finkel fabricated portions of an article he wrote for the New York Times Magazine. Caught and fired, he retreated to his Montana home, only to learn that a recently arrested suspected mass murderer had adopted his identity while on the run in Mexico. In this astute and hypnotically absorbing memoir, Finkel recounts his subsequent relationship with the accused, Christian Longo, and recreates not only Longo's crimes and coverups but also his own. In doing so, he offers a startling meditation on truth and deceit and the ease with which we can slip from one to the other. The narrative consists of three expertly interwoven strands. One details the decision by Finkel, under severe pressure, to lie within the Times article ironic since the piece aimed to debunk falsehoods about rampant slavery in Africa's chocolate trade and explores the personal consequences (loss of credibility, ensuing despair) of that decision. The second, longer strand traces Longo's life, marked by incessant lying and petty cheating, and the events leading up to the slayings of his wife and children. The third narrative strand covers Finkel's increasingly involved ties to Longo, as the two share confidences (and also lies of omission and commission) via meetings, phone calls and hundreds of pages of letters, leading up to Longo's trial and a final flurry of deceit by which Longo attempts to offload his guilt. Many will compare this mea culpa to those of Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass, but where those disgraced journalists led readers into halls of mirrors, Finkel's creation is all windows. There are, notably, no excuses offered, only explanations, and there's no fuzzy boundary between truth and deceit: a lie is a lie. Because of Finkel's past transgression, it's understandable that some will question if all that's here is true; only Finkel can know for sure, but there's a burning sincerity (and beautifully modulated writing) on every page, sufficient to convince most that this brilliant blend of true-crime and memoir does live up to its bald title. 4-city author tour. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Truth is most assuredly stranger than fiction. A week after Finkel was fired from the New York Times for writing a partially fictionalized Magazine cover story, he learned that Christian Longo, who fled Oregon upon murdering his wife and three children, had been telling acquaintances that he was Michael Finkel from the New York Times. In a surreal plot twist, the two men established a bond through a series of letters, prison visits, and phone calls. Finkel interweaves Longo's story with that of his own career and public disgrace at the Times, contrasting the murderer's pathological lies with his own act of fictionalization to stunning effect. Finkel's insider information and unique perspective make this book preferable to Carlton Smith's Love, Daddy, and the perspective of the disgraced author is a compelling addition. Essential for regional collections and a good choice for all public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/05.]-Deirdre Bray Root, Middletown P.L., OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A disgraced New York Times reporter seeks out an accused murderer who'd been using the reporter's identity while evading U.S. authorities in Mexico. A marriage of convenience perhaps, but not one made in heaven. Indeed, by the time we've consumed this eminently readable if sour-tasting story, we have little sympathy for either the narcissistic Christian Longo, accused of murdering his wife and three children in December of 2001, or for Finkel, the journalist who sought out Longo with an eye toward writing the book at hand. Finkel learned of Longo within hours of being fired from the Times Magazine for fabricating parts of a story about workers in the Ivory Coast. Anyone can make a mistake, of course. But it doesn't raise our level of empathy when Finkel confides that he's been an inveterate liar most of his life ("The West Africa article wasn't my first blatant deception. I'd lied many times: to bolster my credentials, to elicit sympathy, to make myself appear less ordinary"). During long correspondence and weekly phone calls before Longo's trial, the pair forge a relationship based largely on mutual need. Longo needs someone to talk to; Finkel needs someone to write about. So we follow glumly along as Longo describes his descent from husband to thief to check forger to fugitive, portraying himself as a poor father struggling against one economic setback after the next. Longo insists he's innocent of murder, even as his self-serving story becomes more transparent and nauseating. Finkel, meanwhile, already less skeptical than he should be, weaves in an account of his own firing, highlighting the pressures that led to his fabrications. Ultimately, both Longo's and Finkel's stories seem toshare a common thread: rationalization of their misdeeds. There's a morbid fascination in following Longo's descent, and Finkel (Alpine Circus, 1999) tells the tawdry tale in crisp journalist's prose. But the result leaves us feeling used, and certainly no better for having met either figure.
Jeffrey Toobin
Always fascinating, sometimes funny, often very weird . . . simply terrific from the first page to the last.
Outside Magazine
A memoir as creepy as it is compelling...expertly and suspensefully told.
Esquire
“Carefully structured, rigorously reported, and fascinating till the end.”
Washington Post Book World
Combines crime and intellectual heft...could well become a classic of the genre.
New York Newsday
A riveting, disturbing and magnificent merging of two men at their lowest moments.
Boston Globe
A compulsively readable amorality tale.
Outside magazine
A memoir as creepy as it is compelling...expertly and suspensefully told.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061840982
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/13/2009
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
11,436
File size:
1 MB

What People are saying about this

Jeffrey Toobin
Always fascinating, sometimes funny, often very weird . . . simply terrific from the first page to the last.

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