This remarkable piece of non-fiction tells the story of a forger of manuscripts who became a double murderer in order to avoid detection. Born into a Mormon community, Mark Hoffman began his criminal activity by ‘discovering’ a series of texts relating to the foundation of the religion. He then forged and managed to pass off as authentic a variety of manuscripts apparently by various American historical and literary figures. One of these was a poem by Emily Dickinson, which was bought by a library in Amherst in 1997 for $21,000. Worrall begins with the Dickinson affair, and works backwards in a book which manages to reflect compellingly and informatively upon Mormonism, forgery, Dickinson and the trade in rare manuscripts. Stranger than fiction, indeed.
Simon Worrall’s investigation into the life and crimes of arguably the most accomplished literary forger the world has ever seen is one of those real-life detective stories you simply cannot put down. In the late 1990s, Worrall read an article about a poem by the reclusive American poet Emily Dickinson which had been auctioned at Sotheby’s for $21,000 but later returned as a forgery.
Intrigued as to how anyone could produce such an apparently perfect fake, persuade world experts of its authenticity and have it sold by one of the world’s leading auction houses, Worrall contacted the buyer of the document and thus started out on the trail of Mark Hoffman. Hoffmann hated and despised the Mormon religion into which he had been born, and at the age of 14 discovered an aptitude for forgery. He set about undermining the central tenets of the faith by producing a string of forged letters, diary entries and tracts which were remarkable not only for their technical mastery and the painstaking historical research which supported them but also for the way in which Hoffmann used self-hypnosis to get into the mind of the putative author and produce entirely convincing documents. Hoffmann became obsessed with the feeling of power which his apparent ability to rewrite history gave him and ever more dependant on the huge amounts of money which he could command, and it was these two factors which were to bring about his downfall. A combination of complacency and increased borrowing to fund his extravagant lifestyle and obsessive desire for rare books caused his web of deceit to unravel, and in a last-ditch attempt to cover his tracks he had no compunction in using home-made bombs to commit a double murder with the same detached ruthlessness with which he had produced and disseminated his forgeries. In this riveting account Worrall not only lays bear the workings of the mind of a master forger and murderer but also provides fascinating accounts of the history and methodology of forgery and an insight into the shady dealings of the Mormon Church and the great auction houses of the world. (Kirkus UK)
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