BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, March 2014

Walter Kirn has penned a number of imaginative novels, including Up in the Air and Thumbsucker, which were both made into movies. But nothing in the pages of those books could match the bizarre, real-life experiences Kirn relates in his new memoir, Blood Will Out.

Here is the Hollywood elevator pitch: Kirn befriends a con artist who passes himself off as an aristocrat, but turns out to be a murderer. Over a 15-year friendship, Kirn discovers he has more in common with this charlatan than he cares to acknowledge. Thus, Blood Will Out is as much a psychological thriller as it is a true crime tale.

The story is full of surprises and strange twists from the beginning, where we find Kirn a promising young author living in Montana with his very young wife, Maggie. He is 34; she is 19. She also happens to be the daughter of actress Margot Kidder and novelist Thomas McGuane. Kirn is struggling as a writer, popping Ritalin to complete a project, then Ambien to induce sleep. Maggie is pregnant and working in an animal shelter. A disabled shelter dog is in need of a home, and a man identifying himself as Clark Rockefeller agrees to the adoption and will pay a generous fee to the person who delivers the crippled canine to New York City. So Kirn seizes the opportunity to drive the dog, incontinent and confined to a wheelchair, to meet this supposed scion of the wealthy East Coast family.

Charmed by this dilettante, Kirn ignores all the warning signs throughout more than a decade of correspondence, phone calls and visits with Clark Rockefeller, who turns out to be Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a German immigrant wanted in the murder of a California man and the disappearance of his wife.

On one level, Blood Will Out is a murder mystery. But Kirn drills deeper, channeling his inner Fitzgerald to probe his own psyche. Kirn likens himself to a modern-day Nick Carraway, with Clark Rockefeller a later-day Jay Gatsby, who passes himself off as wealthy and erudite. Then Kirn wonders whether he is any better. Like Fitzgerald, Kirn was a naïve boy from Minnesota who ended up at Princeton. There, he developed an edgy persona, fueled by drugs and alcohol, to gain popularity as a writer, becoming a con man in his own way.

Blood Will Out is equally dark, edgy, humorous and philosophical. Ultimately, it is a book that proves truth is stranger than fiction.

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