A recovering forger reveals the seedy underside of the well-mannered world of bookmen, corpses and all.
Unreliable narrators may be, well, unreliable, but they do abide by certain rules. They must be wickedly intelligent and rhetorically charming, but a slight but noticeably sinister tone needs to slither around their words too, giving a sense that they’re pleading for respect a little too strenuously. On that score, Will, the narrator of Morrow’s seventh novel (The Diviner’s Tale, 2011, etc.), is a fine creation. It’s easy to be suspicious of him from the first pages, when he tells us he was a forger and that his girlfriend’s brother, a rare-book collector named Adam, died a bloody (and unsolved) death in New York. But Will’s eloquence lets us submit to his story, a complex tale that turns on his skill at mimicking the handwriting and signatures of 19th-century writers. (Arthur Conan Doyle is a particular favorite.) As Will tells it, he went straight years before the murder, and Adam’s death has only prompted him to be more caring for Meghan, whom he marries and tries to begin a new life with in Ireland. But another forger is on Will’s tail, eager to exploit his past actions, opening up the question of just how nefarious Will's deeds were. In Morrow’s hands the story gets a bit convoluted, and there are moments when he can’t sustain Will’s high-strung yet intellectual tone. But the book is also a pleasurable study of the lives of book dealers, for whom holding a copy of a rare Yeats collection or a handwritten Darwin letter is a heart-stopping event. Morrow’s well-researched passages on the collector’s art meshes well with Will’s romantic longueurs about the life of fakery he left behind—or so he says.
A conventional thriller elevated by its glimpses into a bookish milieu.