Tag Archives: literary fiction

Review: The Forger’s Daughter (Bradford Morrow)

This is a slow starting book. And I don’t mean a “get past the first couple chapters slow” kind of book. I mean more along the lines of “get to about 30% on the ereader” kind of slow. The pace is enough to turn off the reader. This reader, however, plunged onward. I really wish I hadn’t, because outside of some things I’ll get into below, this book annoyed me. A lot.

Twentyish years ago, the now-reformed Wil was a forger, specializing in books and letters. What I did not know going into this book is that it is a sequel to a book called, aptly enough, The Forgers. I’ve not read that, but I will give this book points for at least being able to stand on its own. Annoyingly, however, this is only possible by the characters telling us all about what happened before. Wil got caught, lost part of his right hand, they moved, and so on. He’s now a stay at home dad who occasionally does consulting for the bookstore where his wife Meghan works, as well as authenticity checks for auction houses and book dealers to weed out forgeries. There is a humorous moment when Wil is asked to authenticate something that is his own forgery. Although he points out for the acquirers that it is, in fact, a forgery, without telling them it is *his* forgery, they proceed to overrule him and sell it at auction for a tidy sum. Most of the time – he tells us – they defer to his opinions.

We come to know – via incredibly stilted prose and dialogue, as if this is taking place in 1900 instead of now – that Wil’s old nemesis, Slader, is basically blackmailing him into copying Edgar Allen Poe’s first book, Tamerlane. Wil doesn’t seem to have much of a backbone to me, but there are vague threats and he gives in rather immediately, with his daughter Nicole – herself now an accomplished author and copier – pitching in. I suppose this is what the title meant, and the title implies that the daughter has taken over the forging (at least to me) and that’s actually what pulled me in to request it. Alas, it is not the case. Nicole mainly stands by while Wil does most of the work, occasionally going with him to various places because…..because the plot requires it/it’s in the script, I suppose.

There’s no real tension in the bits where Slader presents Wil with the copy he’s lifted from someone’s home, with a directive to get a forgery made by x date so he can slip the forged copy back in place and take the (also forged) one he’s lifted to sell without the owner being the wiser for it. Wil just gives us giant infodumps about how things were before and how he has all the feels, but in the end, we know forging is in his blood and what he loves to do – because the things he tells us in his lengthy monologues make us understand this is so.

In fact, there’s a TON of telling in this book, whether it’s Wil or Meg, in their confusingly presented, alternating narratives, running down “what came before” for the reader or just telling us how they feel in the moment. That’s the bad sort of telling. The good sort of telling are the details about forgeries and paper and ink and printing and the other things in which a bibliophile (like me; like the author, I presume) would be interested. Those are, unfortunately, the best part of this book.If the author were to write a nonfiction book about the history of forged books, letters, and papers, or even one restricted to a particular genre or author, I’d probably like that lot more than this, which is not very suspenseful, seemed to be wrongly attached to the mystery genre when it would seem more at home in the literary fiction group, and which has an ending I neither liked nor believed, even for a fictional tale.

I’ll go briefly into the language of the book – that is, the tone of the prose – as I’m not certain whether the author was writing this way intentionally or ironically (as I’d not read the book previous to this, so could not compare): as I said, this reads like a novel from 1900. The language is stilted for a 21st century couple. Eloquent it may be, but most people – even forgers and bibliophiles – do not speak the way Wil and Meg speak to the reader when they are doing what I always think of as the English parlor act: telling a tale in the age before television or internet, using language that my grandmother would have called high-falutin’. That is to say, their manner of speaking reminds me a great deal of academia, as the sort of oft-parodied tone of upper crust English novels or Downton Abbey and period shows like it. While I would be perfectly fine with this were Wil and Meg and their family placed in that time, it is not the case in this book, and here they (and the author) come across as pretentious.

As for the ending: I rarely say this, but I hated it. It doesn’t match the rest of the book, and at least part of it I would like to have known sooner, as it would have not just informed everything leading up to the end, but it would have informed a choice at the end as well.

If you’re a bibliophile, you’ll probably like those parts very much. It’s clear the author is either working in the field or has done a great deal of research in this area. If you’re looking for a more mystery-influenced novel, as I did, unfortunately, I don’t believe this reaches the level of a book you’ll stay up late into the night reading.

Overall: two stars out of five. Sorry, this simply was not my cup of tea.

Thanks to Mysterious Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Burning Island (Jack Serong)

Eliza Grayling – a woman who tends to her aging, blind alcoholic of a father – is approached by Srinivas, a Bengali Indian. Srinivas has a tale to tell her of a ship, lost with all its cargo and passengers, many of whom were women. He is not unfamiliar with ships lost to the sea or the pirates who sail on them; indeed, he believes that the person behind the disappearance of this ship is the mysterious Mr. Figge, with whom he sailed when Srinivas was merely a young orderly on another ship that foundered many years ago.

In this time, though, with this ship, Srinivas wants to enlist the help of Eliza’s father Joshua, who is also acquainted with Figge, and who also has business to settle with a man Eliza had thought more a myth than monster.

Eliza, for her part, points out that her father is in no ship to put out to sea, and that he hasn’t sailed in many years. Joshua insists, however, and because Eliza decides she must go as well, to care for him, the three of them embark on a journey to the Bass Strait on a ship called The Moonbird, along with a pair of convict brothers, a doctor studying marine life, and the crossdressing master of the ship.

The narrative language is lush, at times soaring so high one might think it will never alight on the page again. There are brief moments when it skips along the line marking the abyss of purple prose, but dances away before falling in. The book is not a fast read, nor is it without the weight of being informed by actual events. Readers who stay with the book will be rewarded through its ups and downs by a story well and remarkably told.

Five stars out of five.

Thanks to Text Publishing and NetGalley for the review copy.