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True Story

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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 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...

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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

From Barnes & Noble
This is the story of a strange convergence. At the moment he received the phone call, journalist Michael Finkel was on the verge of public disgrace. Just a few days earlier, he had been caught fabricating parts of a story that he had written for The New York Times Magazine. Fired by the paper, he had retreated to his home in Montana. When the phone rang, he assumed that somebody in the media was tracking his misdeed. Instead, the call alerted him to an even more bizarre collision of fact and fiction: Michael Finkel learned that a man who had killed four people had assumed his identity. This aptly titled book describes how a small-time fibber pursued the elusive truth.
Publishers Weekly
Finkel reads his own tale of crime and circumstance with a plain, workaday tone ideal for the story of an average journalist caught up in a web of murder. Once a hotshot writer for the New York Times magazine, Finkel was fired for blending fact and fiction in a 2002 story about child slavery in Mali. At the same time, he discovered that a wanted criminal named Christian Longo, who had murdered his entire family, had been passing himself off as Finkel. Blending the disaster of his own creation with the one he finds himself accidentally a part of, Finkel's reading captures the right tone of mixed guilt and incredulousness, as if he simply could not believe his odd luck. While his is not a trained voice, Finkel ably retells the story of his fall from grace, and his bizarre relationship with the Finkel-manque he discovers. He finds the right tone for each twist of his unusual story, from disappointment at his own lack of professional good sense, to appreciation of the second chance granted him as a writer by the surprise intrusion of Longo's sordid story into his own life. Simultaneous release with the HarperCollins hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 14). (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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060586522
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/24/2005
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Abridged, 5 CDs, 6 hours
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 5.76 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Finkel has written for the Atlantic Monthly, National Geographic Adventure, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and the New York Times Magazine. He lives in western Montana.

Michael Finkel has written for the Atlantic Monthly, National Geographic Adventure, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and the New York Times Magazine. He lives in western Montana.

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First Chapter

True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa

Chapter One

This is a true story. Sometimes -- pretty much all the time -- I wish that parts of this story weren't true, but the whole thing is. I feel the need to emphasize this truthfulness, right here at the start, for two reasons. The first is that a few of the coincidences in this account may seem beyond the bounds of probability, and I'd like to affirm that everything herein, to the best of my abilities, has been accurately reported: Every quote, every description, every detail was gathered by me either through personal observation, an interview, a letter, a police report, or evidence presented in a court of law. No names have been changed, no identifying specifics altered. Anything I did not feel certain of, I left out.

The second reason is painful for me to admit. The second reason I am making such an overt declaration of honesty is that, relatively recently, I was fired from one of the more prestigious journalism jobs in the world -- writer for the New York Times Magazine -- for passing off as true a story that was, instead, a deceptive blend of fact and fiction.

The firing occurred in February of 2002, soon after I was caught. The following week, on February 21, the Times made my dismissal public by publishing a six-paragraph article, on page A-3, under the headline EDITORS' NOTE. The article's final line announced that I would no longer work for the New York Times -- a line that, I feared, represented the guillotining of my writing career.

Sure enough, within weeks of the appearance of the Editors' Note, I was flogged by the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, New York magazine, an Associated Press report, a dozen different web sites, several European, Mexican, and South American papers, and in a four-minute report on National Public Radio. One writer described my actions as "sleazy," "arrogant," "offensive," and "pernicious," and then concluded that people like me should "burn in Journalism Hell."


I had been informed of the contents of the Editors' Note a few days before its publication, and I'd assumed that responses of this sort might arise. When someone in the fraternity of journalists fails, it's important for the profession to demonstrate that it can be at least as fierce toward its own as it is toward others. So I devised a plan to shield myself. Once the note was made public, I would retreat into a kind of temporary hibernation: I would not answer my phone, or collect my mail, or check my e-mail. The Editors' Note, I figured, would be posted on the Times' online edition shortly before midnight on February 20, 2002. I live in Montana, where the local time is two hours behind New York, so I determined that I would commence my hibernation at 10 P.M.

Less than ninety minutes before the cutoff time, my phone rang. I answered. It was a newspaper reporter for the Portland Oregonian; his name, he said, was Matt Sabo. He asked to speak with Michael Finkel of the New York Times. I took a breath, steeled myself, and said, resignedly, "Well, congratulations. You're the first to call."

"I'm the first?" he said. "I'm surprised."

"Yes," I said. "You're the first. I didn't think anyone would call until tomorrow, after the story runs."

"No," he told me, "the story isn't running until Sunday."

"No," I said, "it's running tomorrow -- it's already at the presses."

"But I'm still writing it," he said, "so it won't be in until Sunday."

"What are you talking about?" I said.

"What are you talking about?" he said.

"I'm talking about the Editors' Note," I said. "Isn't that what you're talking about?"

"No," he said. "I'm calling about the murders."

True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa. Copyright © by Michael Finkel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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