Book review: Blood Will Out, by Walter Kirn

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 10:09am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 10:09am

Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade
by Walter Kirn
4 stars

Hector Tobar

Walter Kirn's profile of the serial liar and convicted killer known as "Clark Rockefeller" is no ordinary work of true crime and literary journalism.

The chronicle of Kirn's ill-fated friendship with the conman, Blood Will Out must be one of most honest, compelling and strangest books about the relationship between a writer and his subject.

Unbeknown to Kirn, "Clark Rockefeller" was the latest in a series of identities adopted by German immigrant Christian Gerhartsreiter. Kirn, a son of working-class Midwesterners, was smitten. Like many an ambitious writer, he thought the charismatic and odd Rockefeller might make a good character for a magazine article or even a novel.

Rockefeller managed to keep Kirn off balance by making use of a quality he later reveals is the key to fooling anyone: "Vanity, vanity, vanity." When Kirn had a tax problem, Rockefeller gave him "George's" private phone number - meaning then-president George W. Bush. "This isn't the White House switchboard," Rockefeller tells Kirn. "It's his private line. He'll answer personally."

The number looked real, but Kirn didn't have the courage to call it.

And for a decade Kirn couldn't quite bring himself to write about his friend, even in fiction, either. It was only when Rockefeller was thrust into the news by kidnapping his own daughter in 2008 that the full scope of his lies were made clear to Kirn and everyone who knew him in the many places he switched identities.

During Gerhartsreiter's trial for the murder of Jonathan Sohus, witness after witness recounted his lies, and for Kirn it was as if he were waking up from a dream.

Kirn worked independently to further unravel Gerhartsreiter's schemes and stories and found one chilling reference after another to books, films and television, each adding to the pathetic and creepy portrait of Clark Rockefeller as a vacuous manipulator. By the end, Kirn has looked into the eyes of a cruel, empty man - and learned a lot about himself in the process.