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Simon Worrall's The Poet and the Murderer centres around the auction at Sotheby's in 1997 of the manuscript of a hitherto unknown poem by the reclusive 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson. The buyer was the Jones Library in the poets home town of Amherst, Massachusetts. The poem was not written by Emily Dickinson. It was the work of Utah-born Mark Hoffman who has some claims to be the most remarkable literary forger in history. Before he turned to classic American poets, Hoffman had specialised in conning the Mormon Church into believing that documents he had concocted in his home laboratory were original records of its early, beleaguered history in the 1820s and 1830s. His Mormon forgeries, and his later literary forgeries, were so skilful that platoons of experts queued up to vouch for their authenticity. Hoffman, however, was an arrogant chancer who could not resist playing one group of people off against another. Eventually his scheming became so convoluted that the only way out of the maze he had created for himself was murder.
He was much less successful as a murderer than as a forger. He was arrested, convicted and imprisoned years before his Dickinson poem was bought by the Jones Library. More through luck than anything else, the Dickinson forgery was discovered. There is no knowing how many other Hoffman forgeries are in libraries and collections around the world, assumed to be the real thing. By any standards, this in an extraordinary story and Simon Worrall, despite occasional lapses into clichéd tabloid journalese, tells it well. His book is a riveting account of greed, gullibility and the warped talents of a man driven to re-write Mormon and literary history.--Nick Rennison
‘A cracking tale: the labyrinthine story he uncovers is beautifully paced and as complex as any conspiracy theory: a work of non-fiction, it reads like a thriller.’ Observer
‘Utterly enthralling’ Simon Winchester, author of ‘The Professor and the Madman’
‘A terrific story, terrifically told’ New York Daily News
‘An adventurous and sensational narrative’ Peter Ackroyd, The TimesSee all Product Description