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The Forger: A Novel Hardcover – November 4, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (November 4, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031226593X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312265939
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.2 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,789,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

"I reached Paris early in the summer of 1939," begins narrator David Halifax. Following in the footsteps of another generation of American expatriates, he has come to Paris for the sake of art (in his case, at the atelier of the temperamental and brilliant Alexander Pankratov). And like those earlier artists, he has arrived at a particularly crucial moment, as France is simultaneously preparing for and ignoring the threat of war. David vows to ignore the vagaries of the quotidian, however, immersing himself in his painting, down to
the minutest detail, so that it would stop being the whole picture and would break down into its individual parts, which were different from what the parts had been in reality. Now they were fragments of a different thing, a thing all by itself. But the ghost of the canvas underneath, the reminder of it, would always bring you back into the world from which the painting had emerged, many incarnations ago.

And of course, he isbrought back to the world: far from being the muse of escape, his talent will be the siren that draws him irrevocably into the harsh world of war. When Pankratov recruits David as part of the movement to replace priceless French-owned paintings with forgeries before the Germans seize them, the young artist quickly becomes absorbed by the very idea of forgery, by the necessity to adopt another identity, to live and breathe and be the master he copies. But when their lives depend on a final forgery--one so audacious that it will strike to the core of Hitler's own artistic obsessions--philosophy gives way to breathless suspense, as the pair journey through Normandy at the moment of the Allied invasion, desperately searching for a treasured Vermeer.

The novel is so strong that its occasional moments of weakness seem an almost personal affront to the reader who has been bewitched by author Paul Watkins's quiet elegance. The narrative skims too quickly over David's life in Paris during the war years, and some of the most crucial facets of the generally well-balanced plot--Pankratov's diatribe to David on the German threat, for example, or David's decision to create that one last canvas--seem pale despite their avowed vigor. These moments feel as if Watkins has failed to prepare his own canvas properly, contenting himself with superficially dramatic strokes rather than carefully layering his foundation. But these flaws are minor detractions in an otherwise splendid work that balances canny portraiture with an unsentimentally evocative landscape. --Kelly Flynn

From Publishers Weekly

Occupied Paris is the backdrop for Watkins's eighth novel (after The Story of My Disappearance), a suspenseful historical tale of shifting allegiances and uneasy alliances. Shortly before WWII, David Halifax, a young American painter, receives a mysterious scholarship to study in Paris with the eccentric genius Alexander Pankratov. Halifax supplements his scholarship income by selling his sketches through a charming and unscrupulous art dealer, Guillaume Fleury. When war is declared, the three are enlisted by the French government in an elaborate scheme to prevent classic works of art from falling into German hands. With Pankratov's help, Halifax forges Old Masters that Fleury in turn trades for Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces the Germans consider "degenerate," while the originals are hidden away in the French countryside. Halifax and his cronies must guard against discovery by the Germans and reprisals from the Resistance, who believe they are collaborators. Meanwhile, the only female character, an enigmatic nude model, plays a thankless role, tossed between her Nazi providers and the unreliable Pankratov. Halifax's wartime adventures end brutally, but the true denouement is a somewhat anticlimactic exercise in closure, set many years later. Halifax is a compelling narrator, and Watkins uses the psychology of the forger as a vehicle of inquiry into the nature of art and the creative process. The poisonous effects of war, occupation and constant fear are mirrored in the decline of the city and those trying to protect it. While Watkins's themes are familiar, they are deftly handled, the writer's painterly eye for detail matching that of his protagonist. Talented but a little emotionless, Watkins continues to produce solid, reliable literary novels, deviating little from that norm in his latest effort. Relegated to the limbo of midlist novelist, he could do with some dedicated handselling to recommend him to readers in search of quality writing and strong narrative drive. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

Really fun, well written and enjoyable in every way.
The Author also used certain historical characters that were almost too much.
taking a rest
The characters are not cliched but not really interesting either.
R. Albin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on September 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
3.5 Stars
Author Paul Watkins clearly is a writer of talent. His work, �The Forger�, has all of the elements for a suspenseful, engaging read of art fraud, albeit for a noble cause, set just before and during the occupation of Paris. The story he shares should be a book read with great zest, and anticipation as horrible risks are run in the face of arguably the most organized and voracious art thieves in history.
The Author is meticulous with detail, and setting. He also creates characters with depth, complex pasts, and unexpected conduct. The descriptions of the craft of forging an internationally known piece of art are more detailed than I have ever read in any novel. Often the great forgery ends with the final brush stroke imitated on canvas of an age to convince, surrounded by a time worn, worm eaten frame. Not so with this story. A forger requires much more than great skill and the ability to mimic. He must be able to tangibly create the passage of time. This must be done for every one of the senses, not just that of the eyes. The means by which this is done is truly fascinating.
The Author�s style is relaxed, his book is not rushed, and it has the cadence of a deliberate, planned passage. And this is where I felt the book was mismatched. The story is one of deception, whether of art or people. The action takes place in the midst of a World War. If there is a time when pace is to favor the swift with unanticipated changes and improvisations, war certainly provides the setting. I never felt that caught up in the pressure the book unfolded its tale with. Paris may have been an open city, however the risks taken by the primary characters matched those taken much closer to the front.
The Author also used certain historical characters that were almost too much.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amy Battis on January 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
For me, this was one of those spur of the moment purchases. It turned out to be an excellent choice.
Set in pre-WWII Paris, Watkins' story introduces the reader to some very vivid characters: David, a young American out to fulfill a dream of painting in Paris; Pankratov, a disgruntled russian master painter; Dietrich, a strong-headed henchman of Hitler's; Fleury, a shady art dealer. What David gets into is more than he bargained for, but certainly a life experience. As the Germans advanced, the French began an effort to protect certain works of art from being absconded by the Germans. Part of the project involved reclaiming certain works from the Germans by trading forgeries of masterpieces for them. This is where David comes in, with the help of Pankratov's experience and Fleury's promotion.
This book has everything...good pacing, strongly developed characters, excellent setting. I could see, smell and feel Paris at the time. I wanted to cry for Pankratov and his daughter, get mad at the Germans and cheer David on. I was actually mentally tired when the story ended, having gotten so worked up in the conclusion.
Watkins obviously researched art and the "art" of forgery. While I enjoy art, I never really gave much thought to what went on at the time with respect to the paintings and works taken by the Germans. This is a fabulous read. Highly recommended.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on July 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
A semi-sequel to his book In the Blue Light of African Dreams, Watkins' literary (or rather painting) thriller tells the story of David Halifax (the son of the protagonist in that previous novel). David is a promising young American painter brought to Paris in 1939 via a mysterious scholarship which sets him up to study with a bizarre Russian painter, Pankratov. The first part of the story focuses on David's attempt to make it as an artist in Paris, living a spendthrift existence in a small apartment. Soon, however, he becomes friends with his two other fellow students and a shady gallery owner. One of the books' major strengths is how these characters-and all others, no matter how fleeting their role-spring to life under Watkins' pen.
Gradually the threat of invasion looms larger and larger, and David decides not to leave (sparking a major revelation that isn't as much of a surprise to the reader as Watkins probably intended). This leads to his involvement in an elaborate scheme to hide valuable French artwork from the Nazis, who have been systematically looting the countries they sweep though. The scheme involves forging old master paintings and trading them to the Germans for confiscated "degenerate" Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces destined for destruction. It's a small-scale thriller, not end-of-the-world stuff, but perhaps richer for staying within reasonable bounds (although a late scene with Goering veers from the rest of the book). There's plenty of tension as David and his accomplices must walk a tightrope in dealing with and deceiving the dangerous Germans, and facing reprisal from the French who see them as collaborators.
The final third of the book feels a bit rushed, especially given the length of buildup, but the atmosphere is great throughout.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Rick on October 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
Although not a sequel per se, this book follows the story of David Halifax (who's father was the main character in Paul Watkins' previous novel, "In The Blue Light of African Dreams") as he travels to WWII Paris to pursue his art education under the direction of the famous teacher, Alexander Pankratov. Like its predecessor, the plot of "The Forger" is very loosely based on actual events.
Perhaps no painter has been as successfully copied as Jan Vermeer. In the early 1940's, Hans van Meergeren, another (less talented) Dutch painter, claimed to have discovered several lost paintings by the master Vermeer. A rare (and valuable) find since only about 35 originals are know to exist. He sold these "lost paintings" to Hermann Goering and was put on trial by the Dutch after World War II for selling national treasures to the Nazis. Van Meergeren eventually proved himself innocent by painting another "Vermeer" in his jail cell.

Paul Watkins' fictional narrative of these events is skillfully told through the eyes of the likable protagonist, David Halifax. He presents his time and place with eerie clarity, capturing the essence of living in the world's most beautiful city during the ugliest time in its history. And he does this while showing us that great forgery is an art unto itself.
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