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Waltern Kirn is a novelist – he wrote Up In The Air, among other things. Blood Will Out isn’t a novel but a memoir. In 1998 middle-aged Kirn is sitting in Montana, having recently married a 19-year-old who is now pregnant (and who is the daughter of Margot Kidder, who once temporarily went really, really mad. This book is full of dark, arresting, frequently upsetting sidenotes like this, and their cumulative effect is very unsettling).

His world feels responsibility-heavy and oppressive, he drinks too much and takes too many pharmaceutical drugs, blah de blah. Anyway: his neighbours locally, in rural Montana, run an animal shelter and he agrees, for all of the above complicated reasons, to deliver a handicapped dog to her new owner in New York. Other complicated reason he agrees to do this: the new owner is Clark Rockefeller, therefore American aristocracy, and Kirn is fascinated by the posh. He hopes he and Rockefeller will become friends and swish about Manhattan together, frequenting all the East Coast blue-blood bastions that Kirn feels both excluded from and fascinated by (he went to Princeton and Oxford but, no dice: he still feels like an oik. This book is, in part, about class, or rather about having your nose pressed up against the window, dying to get inside).

Kirn gets his wish: they do become friends. Unfortunately Rockefeller is in fact a professional imposter, born Christian Gerhartsreiter. Also, he’s a murderer.

(Don’t read the Wikipedia link if you’re not familiar with the story – I didn’t think I was but then as I read I remembered whole chunks of it – it was a huge story even in the UK. Amity Gage’s novel Schroder is based on the time when ‘Rockefeller’ kidnapped his own daughter).

Kirn has absolutely no idea of any of this at the time. Despite coming across as very much not a credulous ninny, he is completely taken in and entranced by his new pal. He believes what he wants to believe, and sees only what he wants to see. ‘I judged his peculiar manner to be the product of a profoundly insulated upbringing,’ he writes. ‘I recalled meeting a few people like him in college at Princeton – pedigreed, boastful, overschooled eccentrics who spoke like cousins of Katharine Hepburn.’

‘Rockefeller’/Gerhartsreiter  is now serving life. This utterly gripping book is Kirn’s memoir of the friendship, which lasted fifteen years and only ended relatively recently. It’s like The Talented Mr Ripley meets Jay Gatsby, except real. It’s also brilliantly written, brilliantly emotionally astute (eventually), and the best and most unsettling account I’ve read of the inside of the head of a psychopath. Dark, though. Unjolly. Not a beach read.

(If you want to read more about the case, everyone from Vanity Fair to the New York Review of Books to the New Yorker has pieces, and here’s an interview with Kirn on NPR. Spoilers ahoy, obviously).