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This is the life story of Francis Lagrange, who was discovered by an American in 1959 because of Lagrange's interesting, primitive but spectacular pictures of convict life in the penal colony where he spent 15 years. Lagrange's story, in his own words, is roughly divided between the time he spent in the colony and his career as an artist and counterfeiter which led to his internment there. While what he has to say about the now liquidated Devil's Island is interesting- and surprising (there were few injustices, abuses, or atrocities- and earlier accounts have been grossly sensationalized), still the first half of the book which follows his quixotic romantic and criminal career is far more absorbing. After an interrupted marriage to a German girl and his deportation back to France, Lagrange tried to make a living as an artist, failed, and was disastrously in debt in an attempt to live up to the tastes of two mistresses. He drifted into counterfeiting when asked to duplicate rare stamps, went on into counterfeit money (British and American- far easier), and his great coup and chef d'oeuvre was the replica of a Fra Filippo Lippt triptych (a work of some months- at night) in the Cathedral of Bouen, which was later taken from the walls and sold to a California millionaire, while his own replaced the original. The detection of the fraud, after the 1929 crash, and his later counterfeiting of French notes led to his arrest and imprisonment-serving concurrent sentences... minor annals of crime and punishment, but unusual.

Publisher: Doubleday