From Publishers Weekly
In the spirit of The Island of Lost Maps, journalist Worrall's compelling debut explores the career of a counterfeit artist and the world of literary forgery. When a newly discovered poem by Emily Dickinson surfaced in a Sotheby's auction in 1997, a library in the poet's hometown quickly snatched it up. Four months later, however, the poem was returned as fake; it was the work of Mark Hofmann, a rare books dealer and a master falsifier who was then in prison for murder. Using the Dickinson incident as a guide, Worrall reconstructs the life and crimes of the 20th century's best forger (Hofmann's fake of the 17th-century "Oath of a Freeman" passed a carbon 14 dating test). A Mormon by birth, Hofmann had a contempt for his religion that led him to counterfeit its missing sacred documents: he made his own inks, used chemicals to "age" the paper, fabricated documents to authenticate others and spread misinformation to bolster his authority. The lies and subterfuges of this meticulous though imperfect confidence man resulted in the murder of two innocent people, one of them a man who could have exposed him. Some of Worrall's depictions of minor characters feel a bit hackneyed, but his rendering of Hofmann's deep-seated frustrations is engrossing, and positing the forger's quasi-political subversions against the Mormon faith and what he saw as its illusions makes for a juicy read. A history of literary forgery and forensic accounting of handwriting keeps the pages turning, though a late return to the reclusive Dickinson feels like a forced justification of the title. Photos not seen by PW. (May)Forecast: This should be widely reviewed, and fans of literature and true crime will stream to the bookstores.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
When a writer can make the formation of letters in handwriting an act of breath-holding suspense, you know you're in good hands. Journalist Worrall infuses the crime of forgery with the thrill of creation, spiced with the knowledge that one false micromove can mean discovery and ruin. In 1997, Sotheby's unveiled what experts believed was a newly discovered poem, "That God Cannot Be Understood," by Emily Dickinson. A few weeks later, the exciting discovery was revealed to be a forgery by a man who had already convincingly forged documents by more than 100 literary and historical figures, including Daniel Boone and Betsy Ross. This book examines the psychology of master forger and murderer (he killed two people who threatened his unmasking) Mark Hofmann. It also stands as a compelling forensic case study of forgery. From interviews with Emily Dickinson scholars, auctioneers, and forensic-document experts, Worrall pieces together the arduous artistry of forgery. A true-crime standout. Connie FletcherCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved