What I think might have helped would have been the right kind of editing. I get that Kirn’s placing himself in the story is sort of the point, but the writing is best here when he’s NOT writing about himself. Some details such as the identity of his mentally ill ex-mother-in-law aren’t very important while other personal items — like the fact that he and “Clark” both become divorced dads and struggle with this, might be more relevant, especially given that Clark’s downfall involved the kidnapping of his daughter. The book is a quick read at 253 pages, but would have been better if some of the unnecessary verbiage like who some ex-girlfriend went to prep school with had been cut. The problem with leaving this stuff in, is every time Kirn goes there, he takes us out of the story. That should have been obvious, if not to him, than certainly to an editor. There are references to Strangers on a Train, but this isn’t Strangers on a Train. The truth is that unlike Bruno and Guy, Clark just wasn’t that into Walter.
There are other problems as well. A time line might have been nice or dates somewhere. When he does mention one of Clark’s previous girlfriends and drops a year, I had to think back about whether that was before or after he met Clark. There’s also the problem with the interviews he didn’t get. It’s likely that Clark’s ex-wife simply turned down the chance to talk to him, but I would have loved to known more about her story and how she’d got taken in for years. Kirn does have a journalistic background, so it seems lazy that he didn’t try to talk to more of the other people who’d been duped through the years. There’s an imbalance. When he finally writes about his ex-friend’s victims — the ones he murdered — it almost seems like an afterthought.
So here’s my take, look at the sample and the prose. If you are really intrigued and think you can learn to skip the parts that readers don’t read, than maybe it’s worth it. If you always wanted to spend your time around someone who is not famous but can tell you about all the famous people he knows, then this book is for you. If you have a few hours to kill on a plane and you already know a little about the case, you might enjoy it. Again, my own experience was that if I’d read up to the “Niles” part in the bookstore (which occurs AFTER the sample ends) I probably would have thrown it down and bought something else, but having bought it, I kept going and I don’t consider it a waste of time.
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