From critically acclaimed novelist Bradford Morrow, called “a mesmerizing storyteller who casts an irresistible spell” by Joyce Carol Oates and “one of America's major literary voices” by Publishers Weekly, comes The Forgers, a richly told thriller about the dark side of the rare book world.The rare book world is stunned when a reclusive collector, Adam Diehl, is found dead on the floor of his Montauk home, hands severed, surrounded by valuable inscribed books and original manuscripts that have been vandalized beyond repair. Adam's sister, Meghan, and her lover, Will-a convicted but unrepentant literary forger-struggle to come to terms with the seemingly incomprehensible murder. But when Will begins receiving threatening letters written in the handwriting of long-dead authors from someone who knows secrets about Adam's death and Will's past, he understands his own life is also on the line. The Forgers delves deeply into the passions that drive collectors to the razor's edge of morality, brilliantly confronting the hubris and mortal danger of attempting to rewrite history with a fraudulent pen.
|Product dimensions:||6.40(w) x 5.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Bradford Morrow is the author of several novels, including Trinity Fields, The Diviner's Tale, and, The Forgers, as well as a short story collection, The Uninnocent. He is the founding editor of Conjunctions and has contributed to many anthologies and journals.
R. C. Bray is an Audie and AudioFile Earphones Award-winning narrator. An accomplished producer and voice-over artist, his voice can be heard in countless TV and radio commercials. He lives in New England with his wife and three children.
Read an Excerpt
They never found his hands. For days into weeks they searched the windswept coast south of the Montauk highway, fanning out into the icy scrub that edged the dunes, combing miles of coastline looking for a possible small makeshift grave where the pair might be buried. February flurries and short daylight hours hampered their efforts, erasing any telltale disturbances in the sand and semifrozen dirt. Speculating that the severed hands might possibly wash up on shore if his attacker had thrown them out into the churning surf, they scoured the shallows during low tides. Unless salt water had scrubbed his fingernails clean, there was a chance his nails might harbor forensic evidence — especially if he had fought with his assailant, which the disarray at the crime scene suggested he had. Still, the search turned up nothing. It was as if his hands had simply joined together at the wrists, become a pair of wings, and flown away across the gray Atlantic.
The poor wretch survived ten days in the intensive care unit of a New York hospital where he had been transported at his sister's request. In and mostly out of consciousness, he was unable to speak to either his sibling or the police because whoever dismembered his hands had first struck him with brutal precision on the back of his head — he had been working at his desk quietly, as was his solitary predawn habit — leaving him unconscious in a bath of coagulating blood on the floor of his beachfront studio.
The intruder, it seemed, had been expert at his grisly task or else lucky in the extreme. No signs of forced entry. Marble rolling pin used to crack the victim's skull was from his own kitchen. Neither footprints nor fingerprints found. No valuables had been stolen, no money, no jewelry. A vintage Patek Philippe Calatrava, an heirloom from his father, lay unmolested, its second hand tracing serene circles, on the victim's desk. And because the altercation had occurred sometime before sunrise, neighbors had seen nothing unusual in what dim gray-green light the early winter day afforded. After the savagery, it seemed the intruder, much like the hands, had vaporized. None among the regular ragtag of sunrise joggers, who daily ran up and down the beach no matter what the weather, and sleepy dog walkers bundled against the chill had seen anything suspicious. Nor had anyone nearby been awakened by shouts or screams, the incessant crash and hiss of the ocean's waves having drowned out any such noise, if noise there had been. Besides, all the windows on either side of the house were closed, their curtains drawn tight.
When the postman arrived early on his route to deliver another of the many parcels that came to this address from here and there around the world, he found the front door ajar, which made no sense given how cold the weather was. Over the years, he and the victim had become if not friends then friendly acquaintances, which made it all the more unbearable that, after calling out softly then loudly, over and over, stepping unsure and trembling into the foyer — this was a day he had hoped would never happen to him or anyone else he knew — he discovered the body at the far end of the cottage. Even after an ambulance and police vehicles pulled into the narrow lane in front of the cottage, shattering the peace of this solitary neighborhood like meteors hitting a monastery, the man with no hands was still clinging, with a firm spirit if little else, to life.
The most puzzling discovery investigators made at the scene was of a number of handwritten letters and manuscripts by political and literary lights from earlier eras, all scattered in chaos around the studio. Rare books also carpeted the floor, their covers splayed like dead birds, inscription pages torn from many of the bindings. Lincoln and Twain, Churchill and Dickens, a trove of Arthur Conan Doyle documents lay together with dozens of others. Most had been vandalized, ripped to shreds or spattered with blood and ink from an array of antique ink pots once neatly arranged in a cabinet but now tossed about. Whether any manuscripts or signed books were missing was difficult to determine since there appeared to be no catalogue of the collector's holdings, and a check later with his insurance company would reveal that they hadn't been scheduled or insured. But because so many other valuables had not been taken, including books in cases that lined the walls of the studio, the prevailing assumption was that no literary treasures had been stolen, either. What possible logic would dictate the assailant destroy so much precious holograph material only to steal away with others? No, the felonies here appeared to be wanton destruction of valuable property and a severe assault with probable intent to kill, not mere theft.
When Adam Diehl finally died, anything he might have been able to say about the assault — who was behind it, what motivated such barbarity — perished with him. To this day, it grieves me to acknowledge that his death under the circumstances was a tragic if godsent blessing given what an appalling life, mute and prosthetic, he surely would have faced had he survived. Sign language and even speech, given the brain damage that resulted from his head trauma, would have been forever beyond his grasp. He had been, according to his sister, Meghan, ever a recluse, but his injuries would decidedly have isolated him far beyond whatever pleasures he took from living the phantom life. No, surely it was better to lie peacefully in a pretty, manicured cemetery than suffer through the daily grind of such disablement. Isn't the butterfly whose wings have been plucked by a heedless child better off crushed beneath his heel than left in the grass gazing up at the sky, flightless?
Meghan, whom I'd been seeing for a few years before this incident took place, called me with the horrid news. She was sobbing so hysterically that her breath came in jerky bursts and her words cascaded in raw fragments over the sketchy cell phone connection. Hearing the cries of children at play in the background — why weren't they in school? — I realized she had left work for the comparatively more private precincts of Tompkins Square to reach out to me. Not knowing what to say, I said nothing, but just listened to her, my beloved Meg, as she told me everything she knew about what had happened. I remember feeling numb and dislocated, alone at my kitchen table, wishing for all the world I was right there with her, kissing away her tears, holding her tight against me.
Divorced, sweet-spirited, an unpretentious, even earthy woman with flame-red hair who in her late thirties could easily pass for someone ten years younger, Meghan ran a used-book shop in the East Village that specialized in her twin fields of interest, art and cooking. She had learned early on to be independent when she and Adam were orphaned in their preteens — boating accident off Montauk, where the family owned the small beachfront house that Adam later appropriated for his studio hermitage — and were raised in Manhattan by a bookish aunt. In those childhood years they had grown unusually close, relied on each other for support and companionship, behaved themselves in front of their bibulous guardian but created a childhood world of their own, one that for a number of years was only really populated by two. Though Adam was the elder sibling, Meghan had always been more outgoing, so she sheltered him in a way, even mothered him at times. Generous to a fault, she let him have the Montauk residence and, as I began to notice, had often paid his bills when he fell behind. As she filled me in on what last details she knew about his injuries, I pictured her in the square, walking alone beneath the barren trees in the drizzle under heavy purple clouds, and my heart went out to her.
"Where is he now?" I asked, trying to be calm enough for both of us.
"They've taken him to an emergency room in Southampton."
"So he's alive," I said. "That's promising, right?"
"Just barely, he's critical, they told me he lost a lot of blood —" and she broke down crying again.
I waited a little before asking, "Meg, when did all this happen? Do they know who did it?"
"This, this morning," she answered. I assumed that her ignoring my second question meant she knew they didn't, or maybe it wasn't a priority for her just then.
Since I owned a car — a true city girl, Meghan didn't know how to drive — I offered to take her out to the hospital right away. We would have to rent one, as mine was in the repair shop, but that presented no problem, I assured her.
"God, I don't know if I can face seeing him. Is that bad?"
"Of course not. He probably wouldn't even know if you were there with all the drugs they must have him on," I reassured her. Then, "You want me to come meet you?"
"Later, yes," she said, abruptly having stopped weeping. "It's nice of you to offer, especially since you never really liked my brother."
"I never said that," was all I could manage, and though she wasn't entirely wrong about my feelings, I admit I was dumbstruck it would occur to her to say such a thing under the circumstances. But Meghan was devastated, I reminded myself, overwhelmed by such unexpected, staggering news. It was imperative I say nothing to risk our spiraling into some needless, counterproductive quarrel. My job wasn't to contradict but to let her know she wasn't alone, that she could count on me. She had, after all, been a rock for me at a time when I needed support not long after I first began dating her. Now it was my turn.
"Look," I ventured. "I'm sure he'll be okay. He's a healthy guy, so that's in his favor. People survive worse."
News of Adam Diehl's assault stirred a lot of interest in the rare book world, at least for a time, even though he was not a major player or even a figure who was all that well known in the trade. Everyone was deeply disturbed by the events, horrified that one of their own, a fellow book lover, would suffer such a macabre attack. At the same time, the usual questions everyone outside this rarefied literary community asked — who did this? wasn't Montauk always such a safe place? — were supplemented by a profound interest in the books themselves. Who would wantonly destroy books of such quality? Who knew that this Diehl fellow had amassed such an extensive collection? And what was going to happen to the books that weren't destroyed? No one asked me anything outright, about either the collector or his library, but my relationship with his sister was generally known, and I could sense the unasked questions behind expressions of condolence and concern from fellow bookmen.
After Adam was transported to New York City, I did accompany Meghan to the hospital once before he passed away. Her anguish at seeing him, wrists and head bandaged, leashed to an impressive array of machinery, ignited in me a mosaic of conflicting responses. As anyone would be, I was agonized by Meghan's grief and fear and appalled to see him lying there in such a state, helpless in the carnival-bright, less-than-antiseptic ICU. Despite the detail in which she had already described his injuries, I had not expected his condition would be quite this bad — I pictured him gravely maimed, not in mortal danger. Yet at the same time, I was still smarting from her comment about my uneasy relationship with her brother, which left me in the unenviable position of having to pretend I was more upset by his state than, in shameful reality, I was. I don't care to admit it, but a kind of melancholy emotional paralysis veiled itself behind my expressions of loving concern. No civilized person likes to see a fellow human suffering, and I do believe myself to be, despite any faults I might have, civilized. In short, it was a sorry vigil and I did my level best to measure up.
"Adam," Meghan whispered, breaking the unhappy silence of the room as she leaned close to his gauze-obscured face. Bruises beneath his eyes made him look as if he hadn't slept for a year, while his aquiline nose gave him a kind of dignity amid the ruin. I had never before noticed that his was almost identical to his sister's nose. "Adam, honey. I'm right here pulling for you. Everybody is."
He did not — could not? — respond.
When Meghan side-glanced me, nodding toward her brother, inviting me to add a few words of encouragement, my numbness morphed into a further deepening sadness for her. It seemed inevitable that she was going to be left without any family in this world, the aunt who raised her having died around the time Meghan and I first started dating, and I would soon enough constitute whatever "family" she had.
Taking my cue, I whispered, "Adam, I want to echo what Meghan said, if you can hear us. You've got great care here, the best. You just hang in —"
His eyes, which had been closed, came half-open as his head turned a painful inch toward me on his pillow.
"Adam?" blurted Meghan, hope rising in her voice.
"I'll go get somebody," I told her, and hurriedly left the room.
By the time I returned a minute later, following his day nurse into the room, he had slipped back into a semicoma while Meghan stroked his once-again unresponsive face. As we were leaving the hospital, she did register surprise at his reaction to my presence, saying, a little plaintively, "He seemed to recognize your voice more than mine."
"Like I said before, I don't think he's really capable of recognizing anybody what with all the drugs they have him on. He just seemed to be in a lot of pain suddenly."
"You're probably right."
"Look, main thing is I'm glad we were there to help as best we could."
"Me too," she said, slipping her arm around my waist. "I'm glad you came with me."
"No more of this business about me not liking your brother, okay?"
"I'm sorry I said that. Promise I won't do it again," and drew me closer.
Relieved, even feeling a little vindicated, I leaned over and kissed her before hailing a cab back downtown.
Adam died a few days later. Although Meghan went to visit her brother every morning and evening, I'm embarrassed to admit I came up with legitimate excuses that kept me away from the hospital after that first visit. I made up for my pitiful absence at his bedside by throwing all of my best energies into helping her arrange for cremation and burial. Close as we had long been, we were never closer than during that time. She spent every night over at my floor-through just off Irving Place, near Gramercy Park. We quietly cooked dinner together, me acting the role of sous-chef as she grilled scallops one evening and roasted duck another. Sleepless, we shared wine and screened old science fiction flicks like Metropolis and The Island of Lost Souls. We made love with a fervor only a close encounter with death can inspire in the living. In the simplest of ways, we embraced life by embracing each other. To be sure, Adam was never too far from our minds throughout this period of survivalist mourning, with Meghan remembering happy moments from their past and me listening to each one, knowing that these memories were her best legacy and, as such, were to be respected.
Each of us had already been separately interviewed by the investigators and, after exhausting and even demeaning hours of interrogation, deemed not to be, in that wretched phrase, "persons of interest." That they had shown particular interest in me was unnerving, to say the least, but after discovering I was home asleep and had neither motive nor means they let me go and pursued whatever meager leads they had. They brought in others for questioning, as well, a few from the rare book field, all of whom appeared to have passable alibis. Asked if I knew this dealer or that collector, I answered honestly that I did and considered them all to be above reproach, for whatever my opinion was worth.
Meanwhile, the press, initially drawn to the maiming and murder of Adam Diehl, began to lose interest. One hometown tabloid had dubbed the slaying "The Manuscript Murder." Despite the mildly clever alliterative, the phrase didn't gain much traction — who in the tabloid public gives a good goddamn about literary manuscripts, not to mention rare books? — and the story itself faded from the near-front pages toward the middle and then out of rotation sooner than I or anyone else in the book trade, peripheral or otherwise, might have expected.
During this time, Meghan and I cocooned ourselves away from others, which allowed her, whose resilience profoundly impressed me, a chance to begin her process of healing. We did find ourselves inevitably returning to the subject of who might possibly have wanted to hurt Adam, slay him in such a way, with Meghan concluding there was a strong chance it was someone we didn't even know.
"He had his own life out in Montauk," she said, with frustrated resignation. "Close as we were, there's all kinds of things I'm sure he kept from his little sister."
I nodded, thinking, Truer words were never uttered.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Forgers"
Copyright © 2014 Bradford Morrow.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
From the publisher (a succinct plot summary without spoilers]: The bibliophile community is stunned when a reclusive rare book collector, Adam Diehl, is found on the floor of his Montauk home: hands severed, surrounded by valuable inscribed books and manuscripts that have been vandalized beyond repair. In the weeks following his death, Adam’s sister, Meghan, and her lover - - a sometime literary forger who specializes in the handwriting of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - - struggle to come to terms with the murder. The police fail to identify a suspect, and the case quickly turns cold. Soon, Meghan’s lover begins to receive threatening handwritten letters, ostensibly penned by long-dead authors but really from someone who seems to have disturbing insights into Adam’s death. And he quickly realizes that this mystery letter writer will stop at nothing to get what he wants. There are at least three forgers on the pages of this novel by Bradford Morrow, which provides a glimpse into the mind and the “art” of the forger’s work, providing intriguing nuances of the trade. The lyrical prose and poetic writing distinguish this novel, and it is wonderfully entertaining, even as it exposes criminal behavior little suspected by lovers of antiquarian books. The book opens with a murder, and there is a good deal of suspense leading to the stunning ending. But it is the world of rare books and original manuscripts, of which I knew almost nothing, which is so fascinating. There are insights provided throughout on a whole range of book-related things: “Bookshops were, are, and always shall be chancy, quixotic enterprises at best - - easier to raise snow leopards in one’s living room than keep an independent bookstore afloat.” An awareness difficult to avoid these days. And “Book collecting is an act of faith. It’s all about the preservation of culture, custodianship.” The act of forgery is described as producing feelings of nothing less than lightheartedness and rapture. A definite change of pace from the usual fare, the novel is recommended.