Friday, November 23, 2012

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor by Mark Seal

I knew that our St. Luke's book discussion of The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor by Mark Seal would be good. The protagonist is a disturbingly fascinating character despite (or perhaps because) his being so unknowable. That left us plenty of room to speculate on just what drove him to constantly reinvent himself. What pleasure did he gain from his deceptions? Did he choose to do what he did or was he always out of control?

Reading Seal's book also leads one to question the safeguards of our financial networks. In his persona of Christopher Crowe, the shape-shifter was able to get high level positions in investment firms with absolutely no qualifications. He was able just to charm his way into jobs by offering managers what they wanted to see. He eventually lost one job because the boss saw that he never actually did anything profitable, but no one ever did a check for his degrees or certifications. How many other impostors are out there moving big money around?

As Clark Rockefeller, the former Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter from Germany played his greatest roll. He not only convinced many people that he was a member the fabulously wealthy family, gaining entry to exclusive clubs and high society, he was able to keep his identity secret from his wife, a powerful investment manager, for fifteen years. Why did she give her husband complete control of their finances? How could she have never discover inconsistencies in his story? Also, why did no genuine Rockefeller ever raise a voice of warning? The impostor seemed to be out in the open in their stomping grounds.

We thought the author did a generally good job with The Man in the Rockefeller Suit, but all wanted to know more about Clark Roosevelt's collection of modern art, which he used numerous times to convince people that he was a Rockefeller. Where did it come from? Where did it go? Is there another unknown crime?

Seal's book may be just the first about Gerhartsreiter for the story is continuing. As Christopher Chichester XIII, the protagonist will be on trial for murder in California this winter. Will he be convicted? Stay tuned.

Seal, Mark. The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor. Viking, 2011. 323p. ISBN 9780670022748.

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