True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa - The improbable but true story of a man accused of murdering his entire family and the journalist he impersonated while on the run
In 2001, Mike Finkel was on top of the world: young, talented, and recently promoted to a plum job at the New York Times Magazine. Then he made an irremediable slip: Under extraordinary pressure to keep producing blockbuster stories, he fabricated parts of an article. Caught and excommunicated from the Times, he retreated to his home in Montana, swearing off any contact with the media. When the phone rang, though, he couldn’t resist. At the other end was a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, whom Finkel congratulated on being the first in what was sure to be a long and bloodthirsty line of media watchdogs. The reporter was puzzled.
In Waldport, Oregon, Christian Longo had killed his young wife and three children and dumped their bodies into the bay. With a stolen credit card, he fled south, making his way to Cancun, where he lived for several weeks under an assumed identity: Michael Finkel, journalist for the New York Times.
True Story is the tale of a bizarre and convoluted collision between fact and fiction, and a meditation on the slippery nature of truth. When Finkel contacts Longo in jail, the two men begin a close and complex relationship. Over the course of a year, they exchange long letters and weekly phone calls, playing out a cat-and-mouse game in which it’s never quite clear if the pursuer is Finkel or Longo—or both. Finkel’s dogged pursuit of the true story pays off only at the end, in the gripping trial scenes in which Longo, after a lifetime of deception, finally tells the whole truth. Or so he says.