By Rae Padilla Francoeur
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“The Forgers” By Bradford Morrow. The Mysterious Press, New York, 2014. 256 pages. $24.
“The Forgers” is a smart, literary suspense novel that requires a trust some exacting readers may be reluctant to extend. Part of my job in this review is to assure readers that the writer, editors and agent know what they’re up to. Sit down, open up the book and let it in, inconsistencies and all, beginning with the gruesome first sentence: “They never found his hands.” The art and pleasure in this book all flow from second-guessing the exasperating narrator, Will.
Will descends from a line of bibliophiles with a keen interest in, among other authors, Arthur Conan Doyle. Will’s father, a New York defense attorney, was an avid, if not legendary collector of the most pristine of volumes. From his father Will developed his love of books; from his mother, a precise and precocious calligraphy skill that fit nicely with his appreciation of the old tomes. One thing led to another and Will, a buyer and seller of rare books and letters, simultaneously executed a prosperous business forging inscriptions in books and related letters. He was caught, prosecuted and punished. We meet Will after he has worked hard to put this mess behind him.
Forging, we learn, is an obsessive endeavor, peculiar to obsessive personalities who are, in turn, addictive personalities. Thus we are left to ponder, what is Will capable of doing?
For reasons that are hard to understand, this secretly unabashed forger loves and is loved by the lovely Meghan, owner of small bookstore in New York City. Thank goodness for this affection because it is the thing that most humanizes Will. Once we are exposed to Will’s interactions with Meghan, his nurturing of her and his constant attention to their relationship, we find ourselves softening toward and even half-heartedly rooting for Will.
Meghan’s brother Adam Diehl, also a collector of books, is the one whose hands are severed, an atrocity that morphs to murder when he succumbs to the injuries a few days later. Adam is part of the book culture in New York and, perhaps, a forger as well. Before his death, he makes it clear to Meghan that he doesn’t like Will. Who to trust? That is the big question.
Will begins to receive threats in the way of letters and events like the discovery of a pair of bloody gloves and a bloody bone partially buried in his yard in Ireland, where he and Meghan have retreated. Will is never innocent enough, or rehabilitated enough to go to the police or face down the blackmailer who threatens to effectively ruin him. Once these letters begin to appear, the tension escalates nicely. Will lives a double if not a triple sort of life. He holds it together because, without Meghan, life would be meaningless.
Reading about books, forgers and murder are, of course, entertaining in their own right. What’s even more entertaining is Will, who narrates this story in his own snobby, paranoid, at times quite humorous voice. From page one, if you’ve agreed to trust the author, you understand that it’s the narrator you must question every sentence along the way.
This 256-page character study is well done. Will is multi-dimensional, aspiring in all things and unrelenting in everything. It’s this kind of energy that keeps him one step ahead of the rest of us whether or not he lives up to your expectations.
Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in some bookstores. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at www.freefallrae.blogspot.com or follow her @RaeAF.
Book Notes: When the narrator is the story
By Rae Padilla Francoeur