Tuesday, April 3, 2018

True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa by Michael Finkel

I'm a fan of true-crime books which is why I picked this up, but True Story is a little different from most true crime books. Instead of focusing solely on the crime, the book devotes equal attention to the author and his relationship with the main suspect.

True Story starts with Michael Finkel being exposed for making up large parts of his New York Times story on child labour. At the same time, he finds out that Christian Longo, who was recently captured for the brutal murder of his entire family, had impersonated him while running from the law. Lured by the prospect of a story, Finkel reached out to Longo and eventually develops a relationship with him. The book juggles Finkel's own journalistic past with his developing friendship with Longo and an account of the murders.

Longo's acts were horrific. There's really no getting around it — he killed his wife, Mary Jane, and his three children before escaping to Mexico and having a week of fun. And even knowing that, Finkel finds himself drawn into a friendship with Longo. While he tries to convince himself that it's just to get a good story, he finds himself opening up to Longo more and more. It really hammered home the point that some of the most charming people are capable of brutal acts of murder. I spent a lot of the book sympathising with Longo as he got to tell his side of the story, and then I realised (along with Finkel) that I had been duped. Despite his protests of honesty, Longo told multiple versions of the murder, all of them making him sound like a good person.

This really isn't one of the usual true-crime books. The emphasis here is on Finkel and how he develops, and at times it feels like the Longo murders were just a backdrop for his growth. Mary Jane and the children are viewed primarily through Longo's eyes, and it's only at the end that we see what a monster he is.

And that may be the frightening part of the book: to know that if we were given only one side of the story, we might end up supporting a monster. Now, I would love to read a version of this story that focused on Mary Jane and her children, she deserves a voice too.

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