True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa
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True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  345 ratings  ·  55 reviews
In the haunting tradition of Joe McGinniss's Fatal Vision and Mikal Gilmore's Shot in the Heart, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa weaves a spellbinding tale of murder, love, and deceit with a deeply personal inquiry into the slippery nature of truth.

The story begins in February of 2002, when a reporter in Oregon contacts New York Times Magazine writer Michael Finkel w...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 2005)
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Jennifer
This book was recommended to me yesterday, and I finished it today. Obviously, I could not put it down. Literally.

This is a memoir sprung from coincidence. The author, Finkel, is exposed for having created a composite character in a story he wrote for the New York Times Magazine, at the exact moment when a man named Christian Longo murders his family, flees to Mexico, and begins using Finkel's identity as a writer for the Times.

I was drawn to the story originally for the true crime aspect of i...more
Simon Cleveland
3 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
What's one man's demise is another's redemption...or is it?, June 2, 2006


Michael Finkel wrote this book in an effort to alter the popular opinion that he is a dishonest reporter who falsified his articles. He wrote with one objective in mind - to emerge as a talented author and honest human being. But was he able to do so? It's up to the readers to decide.

What's the book about? As it turned out, a serial murderer used Mr. Finkel's identity to...more
Mary Frances
This book is most interesting for the way one narcissist, the author, tells the story of his relationship with another, the murderer/ con man Chris Longo. Over and over in the book I find these insincere comments by the author about his fictional article that got him fired from the New Yorker, about the lies he tells to his subject which he tries to justify while "regretting" the lies, about his insincerity with others. It's kind of fascinating in that regard. As a comprehensive study of either...more
Sherry Chandler
My son was assigned this book to read in an MFA class in nonfiction, and because he left it lying around, I picked it up and read the first few pages. It is a very well written book so I continued reading to the end. But the longer I read, the more I wondered why I was spending my time reading the tale of two liars and why I should believe Finkel's assertions that his association with Longo had allowed him to reform himself when he had just told us all the times Longo himself had sworn himself r...more
Morgan Williams
This book starts out as a somewhat interesting look at what can happen to a journalist, or a writer of creative non-fiction, if they stray from the truth. He is, presumably, completely honest in his account of his disgrace with the New York Times, and his apparent willingness to help others avoid his mistakes is quite admirable. Unfortunately, the book quickly turns into the literary equivalent of one of those sordid television courtrooms, and his personal involvement with Longo overshadows what...more
Anna
A quick and haunting read. Finkel, a disgraced NYTimes writer, finds out that a man suspected of murdering his entire family has been posing as him while on the lam in Mexico. His journalistic instincts, if not his career, still intact, the author embarks on a strange, intense relationship with the accused in the months leading up to his capital murder trial. As someone burned by the flames of invention, Finkel tries - tries - to give as "true" an account, of the relationship and the facts of th...more
Jennifer Willis
I don't think I could accurately estimate the percentage of time I spent with my mouth hanging open or the number of times I exclaimed, out loud, "Oh, my God!" while reading this book. The sheer audacity and calculated rationalizing of Chris Longo -- the convicted murderer around whom this story revolves -- are at once both mesmerizing and horrifying.

"True Story" is the perfect title for this book, wherein the author struggles with the honesty/dishonesty of his subject, even as he comes clean ab...more
Downward
After getting caught conflating details of a story for New York Times magazine, Michael Finkel goes into hibernation to lick his wounds, but before he gets a chance to, discovers that an alleged murderer has been impersonating him in Mexico. True Story is the Finkel's account of his own fabulism, convicted murderer Chris Longo, and the convergence of the two events into a relationship that is extraordinarily compelling to watch unfold. There are a lot of genuine 'mystery novel' moments here, inc...more
Dennis Littrell
Finkel, Michael. True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa (2005) *****
Brilliantly done, but unsettling

I found this fascinating. I stayed up until two o'clock in the morning to finish it. It is a true crime story written in a clear, elegant style. Every sentence is polished, and every sentence is planned and placed in exactly the right place. There is no obvious striving for effect, no lurid prose, no fancy writing. Michael Finkel employs what George Orwell once called the invisible style. The writi...more
Erika
I wanted to not like this book, really, I did. What's to like about the story of a husband brutally murdering his wife and three small children, especially when that story is told by an investigative reporter fired from the New York Times for falsifying details of a cover story? And yet, there is no denying that Michael Finkel wrote a page turner here, that's riveting precisely because this is the meeting of two, in the end very similar narcissists. Because if there is one thing Finkel does in t...more
Cranky
This is an intriguing book about coincidence, redemption, and the criminal mind.

The coincidence is this: on the very day when the author learned he would be publicly disgraced for dishonesty in a NYT Magazine article he wrote, a suspected murderer was captured--a murder who had assumed the author's name and identity to aid him in his flight from the law. Suddenly the author of this book was a central figure in two stories, and he latched onto the latter as a chance to redeem his journalistic cre...more
Rebecca Haslam
Although it took a while for me to get into, by the time I turned the last page, this book had helped me pass a thirty minute train journey and a forty minute wait at a platform, so in that sense, it was rather good. It's been a long time since I have read a crime related book,and on the back of this, I may chance reading another, but the thing that interested me about this story was how it made me think. There are questions asked within this book, either literally or referred to, that should ap...more
Susan Conboy
I listened to this on CD. Great listen. Articulate. I could easily understand how Michael Finkel could be drawn into the relationship. After reading, it was interesting to check out " the rest of the story." Lots of info on the Internet about what happened after.
Kathy-Diane
I was prepared not to like this book and set out to read it if only to prove that it was another of Finkel's fabrications. Who doesn't remember Michael Finkel? He was fired from the New York Times Magazine for writing a story about child slavery on the Ivory coast where he fabricated the main character. The memoir begins when Finkel gets a call from another journalist, not to question him about his firing as expected, but to tell him that a man passing himself off as "Michael Finkel of the New Y...more
Cherie
Was a little difficult for me to get into this. But once I got into it, I couldn't put it down. I found myself going through the same emotions as the author. This is a very emotional book. This is one of those stories that stay with you.
Mark Penzkover
A very disturbing story of Christian Longo, who murders his wife and children, and the story of the man who wrote about the case (and also had a 14-month correspondance with the murderer). Throughout the story, I was waiting for an explanation that would make the murders seem less monstrous, but the killer's testimony made it even more disturbing (claiming his wife actually killed the two older children). Longo's crimes started with him stealing $100 as an 18 year old and eventually grew into fo...more
Allison Herman
This story is hard to explain, but not hard to follow when reading. Here goes: Michael Finkel works for a prominent NY magazine. He is caught fabricating a story and passing it off as truth. He is fired. At the same time this is going on in Finkel's life, a complete stranger has decided to pretend to be Michael Finkel.
Christian Longo flees to Mexico after his wife and three children are found dead at the bottom of a lake. While there, he tells people his name is Michael Finkel and that he write...more
Meave
Oh it's so very, very good. I read it all last night, nearly uninterrupted, because putting it down would've been horrible. The crazy coincidence, the letter-writing, the twisted lies and lies and lies -- also the writing is very direct, and the jumps in time are handled quite well. I haven't read much better true crime, and I don't remember reading much about this case when the story broke.

Really, the writing is excellent, the story is compelling, the details completely satisfy the need to know...more
Selena
The writing was pretty good, though Longo drove me absolutely mad. But if I ever need to write a narcissist I know which book to consult.
Jennifer Bowers
This author was a NYT journalist who did an exposé of child slavery in Mali -- or rather a reverse exposé, in that he found it was not as widespread as other sources were reporting. But because he used a fictional character, a composite of many young men he met, without disclosing that it was a composite, he was fired. (The ones who complained and found him out were charities who are raising money to fight the child slavery he claimed did not exist!). So that's what really interested me about th...more
Jackie Zajac
I hadn't previously heard of either men - the NYT writer who admitted to a false story, or the accused murderer in Oregon. That made this read all the more suspenseful. I found it engrossing and a quick read, and though I'm not generally prone to nonfiction, this was really fascinating and the narrative kept me engaged. Would recommend to anyone who likes mystery novels, nonfiction, true crime stories, or is fascinated with Jehovah's Witnesses :)
Kathy B
It is an amazing story.
Jane
This is a fascinating book that I just couldn't put down. I heard the author, Michael Finkel, being interviewed on MPR one day when I was driving to the Cities and couldn't believe it! After I picked up the book, I couldn't stop reading until I was done. Interesting insight into the conduct of Jehovah's Witnesses, and into the minds of an egotistical writer and a charming, although ultimately murderous, con man. I think each of you would like this, if you haven't already read it.
Linda
Fascinating, frustrating, disturbing. While the murderer was a sick man with obvious mental issues, I was more interested in the author, Michael Finkel, who seems to suffer from a very mild form of the same affliction. I was much more interested in the increasing arrogance and narcissism that compelled him to falsify his New York Times story than hearing Christian Longo justifying his many digressions, though of course the book is much more about Longo than Finkel.
Guy
A true story about a couple of liars. One is the author, a former New York Times writer who was fired for fudging on a story. The other was a young Jehovah's Witness man who was charged with killing his wife and three children before escaping to Mexico and impersonating... a New York Times writer named Michael Finkel, the author. A compelling read. I don't think I agree with the author's conclusions, but it was a fascinating book from start to finish.
Lorraine
Michael Finkel's story about himself and the loss of his job with the NY Times Magazine and the coincidental meeting with a murderer who assumed his name for a short time. He recounts his year-long relationship with him while waiting trial and throughout the trial. At times it was disturbing to me and I still have ambivalent feelings about it.
Kristen Kunkle-somma
Read this book in 2 days...couldn't wait to find out what really happened...interesting the fine line between truth and lies in journalism and in real life!!
Dolores
I can't say I'm a fan of Finkel but it is fascinating how his and Longo's lives intersected. Overall disturbing and heartbreaking what happened to Longo's wife and children. It was just okay for me though...no where near thought-provoking as "Shot in the Heart" by Mikal Gilmore.
Rachel Jaffe
I love this book. I thought that it was going to be a true crime story, but it turned out to be more a meditation on the nature of truth. Finkel admits his own issues with the truth, even as he works to ferret out the truth from another avowed liar. Well written and thought provoking.
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