Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder,
a Mystery, and a Masquerade by Walter Kirn
Liveright, 2014; 272 pp
Reviewed by Charlie Riccardelli
When author Walter Kirn was tasked with delivering a hunting dog to Clark Rockefeller in the summer of 1998, he thought the trip would provide him with the opportunity to brush paths with a true eccentric. Rockefeller, who claimed to come from the prestigious tycoon family, wooed Kirn with discussions of international banking and modern art, just two subjects among many that this mysterious stranger claimed to know inside-out. Kirn set out from Montana to Manhattan where he’d meet and befriend Rockefeller. Little did he know that more than a decade later, Rockefeller would be revealed as a compulsive impostor, child abductor, and murderer.
Kirn’s true crime memoir Blood Will Out would like to follow in the tradition of In Cold Blood as a chilling account of an author intimately associated with a killer. The sub-genre has seen some notable entries over the years, including The Stranger Beside Me, My Friend Dahmer, and the riveting True Story. Hell, the book jacket even apes the style of Capote’s masterpiece, but Kirn’s book lacks the intimacy for its subject that many of those other titles provide. Much of the book tangentially covers Rockefeller’s life and crime, instead spending most of the time covering how the author feels so foolish that he could let himself get duped for so many years.
To Kirn’s credit, he does discuss that he, as many people have, allowed himself to get conned by someone because fiction, like the kind that Rockefeller dished for so many years, offers more intrigue than the reality of the everyday. While I find that assessment true, I often found myself put-off by Kirn’s own take on his years getting deceived. Kirn’s depiction of himself makes him sound like an opportunist not dissimilar to Rockefeller, though without the felony charges to hamstring his character. Kirn comes off as similarly smug and boastful as he ticks off his credentials and personal connections that make the book feel like an extended brag. Whether Kirn senses the irony is unclear to me.
Readers interested in true crime will likely find little to dissect, especially with several other Clark Rockefeller books on the market. Even amidst this bizarre crime case, Kirn can’t help making himself the central focus of the story. I found his meditation on his own life less than compelling, especially with a sociopath lurking just out of reach.