Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade

By Walter Kirn

(Liveright, $25.95, 272 pages)

Who is this author?

I first heard of Walter Kirn when I saw the bittersweet movie, “Up in the Air,” starring George Clooney. That popular film was based on Kirn’s book of the same title, and another of his novels, “Thumbsucker,” also was adapted for the screen. His other fiction includes “My Hard Bargain: Stories” and “She Needed Me.” Kirn, who lives in Montana, is a contributing editor for Time and often writes for the New York Times Book Review. His writing also has appeared in in the New York Times Magazine, GQ, Vogue, New York and Esquire. “Blood Will Out” was named a USA Today Top 10 Best Book of Winter 2014.

What is this book about?

This is the story of a smart writer who was gulled – in no small part by his own willingness to believe and his desire to snag a fascinating story – by a con man who goes far beyond a kind of entertaining “Catch Me if You Can” life of impersonations straight to cold-blooded murder. In 1988, Kirn, whose marriage was failing and was about to become a father, accepted a strange assignment: bring a crippled dog from Montana to a mysterious New York banker and art collector who had seen the dog on the Internet and wanted to adopt it. The man called himself Clark Rockefeller and claimed to be part of the famously rich family, but in fact turned out to be a poor German émigré, a skilled sociopathic imposter, kidnapper of his own daughter and a ruthless killer. For 15 years, Kirn let his life be entwined with that of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, aka Clark, and the book details what the author learned about his psychopathic pal and about himself, from the first ill-fated trip with the dog to the murder trial and beyond.

Why you’ll like it:

This is definitely one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” true crime stories, and you will be mystified by how “Clark” managed to fool countless people who should have seen through his brilliant and sophisticated con games, including his wealthy upper class wife. And you may well also be puzzled how Kirn, an apparenty smart and savvy observer of life, also fell – for many years and quite willingly – for Clark’s phony representation of himself as one of the privileged upper crust. Read this one as a cautionary tale: if someone’s story of his life seems too good to be true…well, you know the rest.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says, in a starred review: “In the summer of 1998, Kirn . . .  was a struggling writer, taking assignments where he could get them, when he accepted an odd task: transporting a crippled dog from a Montana animal shelter to New York City, where a wealthy benefactor from the Rockefeller family eagerly awaited its arrival. That alone could have made for a quirky riff on Steinbeck’s classic Travels with Charley, but Kirn’s road trip took another turn entirely as he entered a wild and murky 15-year friendship with the man who called himself “Clark Rockefeller”—a man who would eventually be the target of a nationwide FBI manhunt and charged with murder. Kirn artfully relates how the man born as Christian Gerhartstreiter manipulated those around him, operating against a backdrop of elite mens’ clubs, expensive art, constant name-dropping, and tales of wealth and sophistication. The parallels with Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley are not lost on Kirn, who spends as much time trying to understand how he and others fell under Gerhartstreiter’s spell as he does relating the primary tale of the criminal himself. Kirn’s candor, ear for dialogue, and crisp prose make for a masterful true crime narrative that is impossible to put down. The book deserves to become a classic.”

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2014, review says: “An epigraph from Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley says much about what’s to come in Walter Kirn’s remarkable confessional: “He was versatile, and the world was wide!” When Kirn first met Clark Rockefeller, he was smitten by the man’s wealth and eccentricities. Coming off a failed marriage (to the daughter of Thomas McGuane and Margot Kidder), Kirn was a bit of a wreck, as was Rockefeller. The two men were drawn to each other. As the friendship progressed–into some uneasy terrain–Kirn ignored the clues “spread out for [him] to read,” and plowed ahead to become a confidant and enabler. Except, it turns out, Clark wasn’t a Rockefeller at all. Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter was, as Kirn puts it, “the most prodigious serial imposter in recent history.” He was also a murderer. So what did that make Kirn? “A fool,” he admits, “a stubborn fool.” This is a compulsively readable, can’t-look-away book and, ultimately, a brave piece of work. Kirn has laid himself bare: his failed marriage, his Ritalin reliance, his misguided allegiance to a sociopath. In exposing his own “ignorance and vanity,” what Kirn has really crafted here is the story of a bamboozled writer who for fifteen years ignored the big story right under his nose; who, in trusting his imposter friend, “violated my storyteller’s oath.” With Blood Will Out, Kirn has impressively restored his storyteller’s credentials.

Says Booklist: “In The Journalist and the Murderer (1990), Janet Malcolm dissected journalist-subject dynamics. Here Kirn also covers that subject, but in the highly personal story of his being hoodwinked, professionally and emotionally, by a man he knew as Clark Rockefeller, a member of  the famously wealthy industrial, political, and banking family. Over the years, their often long-distance friendship faltered in suspicious ways, yet Kirn kept up hope, naively perhaps, considering the flaws and untruths he uncovered, disturbing occurrences Kirn chose to ignore. But when Kirn woke one morning to discover that his friend Clark was not even Clark, much less a Rockefeller, and going to be tried for a murder committed years ago, he decided to finally write about their relationship, questioning along the way journalistic integrity and the encounters between the subject and the writer. This tale’s a fascinating one (starting with Kirn’s road trip with a paralyzed dog) that is covered elsewhere (Mark Seal’s The Man in the Rockefeller Suit, 2011), but Kirn’s reflecting, musing, and personal dealings add a killer punch to this true-crime memoir.”

“Kirn is such a good writer and Gerhartsreiter such a baroquely, demonically colorful subject, you could imagine this being a fine read had they no personal connection. That they did, however, elevates Blood Will Out to another level: Kirn lards his story with detail while reviewing his own psyche, in an attempt to discover how he—a journalist!—could have been so fooled. The irony? With all due respect to Kirn’s skills as a novelist, it is hard to conceive of any fictionalized version of ‘Clark Rockefeller’ being as compelling as the real thing,” says Entertainment Weekly.”

When is it available?

Here’s the truth: it’s at the Downtown Hartford Public Library now.

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