During the summer of 1998, the Montana-based magazine writer and novelist Walter Kirn agreed to transport a crippled dog to New York and into the care of a banker named Clark Rockefeller. Kirn found himself fascinated by Rockefeller, who claimed to be a member of the famous family of financiers and industrialists, and over time the pair became friends. Kirn was so impressed by the man that he ruled out writing about him — even in fictionalized form — largely for fear of losing his entrée to the aristocratic world Rockefeller inhabited.
He’s sure as hell writing about him now. In 2008, Rockefeller abducted his young daughter and was arrested after a nationwide manhunt. Several weeks later, Kirn was shocked to find out that his friend was being linked via his fingerprints to a man named Christopher Chichester, who was wanted for questioning about a 1985 murder but had vanished. In fact, Kirn’s pal was neither a Rockefeller nor a Chichester but a German con man named Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a real-life Tom Ripley who, like Patricia Highsmith’s character, was capable of homicide. That, at least, was what the prosecution sought to prove at Gerhartsreiter’s 2013 murder trial, which Kirn attended and which provides the narrative spine for Blood Will Out.
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. A-