Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Mozart Forgeries

The Mozart Forgeries:
A Caper Novel for the Serious Mozart Aficionado
by Daniel N. Leeson
(iUniverse / 0-595-31676-X / June 2004 / 332 pages / $19.95)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

The subtitle of The Mozart Forgeries is A Caper Novel for the Serious Mozart Aficionado, and that is an accurate description, though the book is a good deal more than that. For instance while I consider myself a music aficionado, I am not a fan of Mozart, but that didn't affect my enjoyment of this book. I am also interested in books and paper and how they are made, and I am an amateur calligrapher--all have relevance to The Mozart Forgeries. But what matters most is that I also love a good read, and this book measures up on all counts.

There are two main characters, never named (I will come back to that): Librarian and Forger. Friends since childhood, they grow up with, or acquire, a variety of special skills and abilities: a photographic memory for texts, the ability to play piano, a career dealing with rare manuscripts, and not least among others, a willingness to break laws in order to make money. Both are exceedingly cunning, and Librarian, the leader, in particular has enough caution and planning skills to make a top-drawer secret agent. In a nutshell, the basic premise is this: several popular works of Mozart (known to anyone who loves classical music, even me), are known to exist only from copies of missing originals. Librarian and Forger decide to forge them and to auction them off for millions of dollars. The novel is a detailed account of how they do this, and I do mean detailed--the process takes up the majority of the pages. The plot twists and suspense come towards the end, but they do come. The story is meticulously plot-driven rather than character driven: the reader will learn an astonishing amount about music, how paper and ink are made, the process of music composition, and most informative to me, the business of forgery. If the skills involved were not so specialized, the text could almost be used as a how-to guide for enriching oneself with a quill pen.

The volume is handsome and the story is splendidly written. You will not find a more cleanly edited book anywhere. For my money, though, the style was a tad cool. For example, I see no reason why the two protagonists couldn't have been called Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. In an aside early on the author explains that since the characters desire anonymity he will call them only Forger and Librarian. Whatever that added to the flavor of the story created awkwardness through the first two thirds of the book, for me at least. (I finally did get used to it.) Furthermore, though the two men do have vestigial personalities, they tend to speak as if they are university lecturers, in polished, complex sentences. Ultimately, however, their personalities are not the point. The caper is the story. In a way, it's the opposite of all those "Oceans" movies, where the caper was almost irrelevant and the characters and their interactions and in-jokes were what mattered. This is a decidedly scholarly caper story.

If you are the type of reader who enjoys florid, breathless, gauzily plotted crisis-a-minute action stories like The Da Vinci Code, The Mozart Forgeries is not for you. If you enjoy a tightly plotted, rigorously detailed, and even informative, caper story, I don't know how you could do better.

1 comment:

JanetElaineSmith said...

This is one of my favorite "new" releases. I loved the complexities of the plot and the ingenious research the two main characters went through to make it all so authenticate.
Thanks for reviewing this one, Floyd. I highly recommend it for anyone.
Janet Elaine Smith, author