Thursday, June 30, 2005
Last week I read The Poet and the Murderer: A True Story of Literary Crime and the Art of Forgery by Simon Worrall. This true crime book tells the story of Mark Hoffmann, a rare books and manuscripts dealer who also happened to be a master forger, and who sold hundreds of forged, and often embarrassing, documents to the Mormon Church (of which he was a member). He also created scores of non-Mormon forgeries, including a "previously undiscovered" poem by Emily Dickensen, around which the book revolves. Eventually Hoffman commits murder to cover up his crimes, and ends up accidentally injuring himself with a car bomb and going to jail. This book occassionally falls into the pop psychology that one often finds in true crime books, but the subject matter is so fascinating that it is easily forgiven. In addition to the specifics of Hoffman's case, Worrell delves into the strange history of Mormonism, the history and techniques of forgery, Emily Dickenson, and the potential for misdeeds in the world of professional auction houses. The amount of work that goes into Hoffman's forgeries is amazing -- and although as an archivist I'm not so big on the forging, I still have to admire the skill and detail involved.