“When the time came to retell his story in court, in a matter of weeks, it would be airtight and polished, edited by his personal writing coach. What I’d unwittingly been doing, in other words, was helping Longo get away with murder.”
Author: Michael Finkel Published: 2005 Pages: 329
As is obvious from the title of this book, this is a true story. The author, Michael Finkel, was a journalist for the New York Times but after he embellished one of his stories, the paper had no choice but to fire him. Shortly after this, he was contacted by a man called Christian Longo who had been impersonating Finkel for his last few days as a free man, before being arrested for the murder of his wife and three children.
What is utterly baffling is that I spent the entire book suspending my disbelief at the unbelievable turns the story took. I actually caught myself thinking a few times “wow, Finkel’s done a really good job at coming up with this plot” before remembering that it is all true. This was something which added to the book’s appeal because its lack of fiction made the story’s implausibility all the more intriguing. I cannot overstate how chilling it was to read about these murders and remember that they actually happened.
The relationship Finkel portrays between himself and Longo is interesting; on the one hand, they seem to get along really well and talk as if they are close friends. On the other hand, it is abundantly clear that Finkel cannot escape the truth that Longo is an accused murderer. The narrative is therefore littered with Finkel’s torn conscience and his conflict about how close he should get to a man who has been accused of killing his entire family.
The morality of their relationship is somewhat questionable throughout, after all, if Longo is guilty of his crimes, then there is no better way to describe him than a monster. I can understand why some people would berate Finkel for befriending Longo, but it becomes increasingly clear that Finkel is only using their correspondence to kick-start his career again. So, if both men are in their own way guilty, does it justify their association?
This novel is fast-paced, spine-chilling, and just fantastic. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, but it did exactly what it needed to do and Finkel triumphs at re-telling a true story as if it were a best-selling fiction plot.
Overall I very much enjoyed Finkel’s retelling of this unpredictable story. I liked that, despite Longo’s accusation, for the most part, Finkel was willing to suspend any assumption of guilt in order to get to the truth. I think what this story proves more than anything is that sometimes we don’t need fiction because the truth is just as absurd.