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The Forger

By Paul Watkins
Published by Faber & Faber

Anglo-American thirty-something Watkins’ seventh novel is a superior thriller, written in dispassionate, meat and potatoes, tough guy prose, inviting immediate comparison with faux-Hemingway terseness, and also presenting a somewhat Hemingwayesque situation.
Young American painter David Halifax finds himself studying in pre-WW2 Paris, courtesy of a scholarship he never applied for from an organisation he never heard of, called the Levasseur Committee. This is eventually revealed as a front cooked up by Pankratov, Halifax’s socially maladroit but brilliant Russian émigré teacher, and his cafe-owning buddy Ivan, who served with Halifax’s uncle in the Foreign Legion. Installed in Pankratov’s atelier, along with affectless model Valya, our hero soon falls in with Fleury, a successful art dealer. Fleury, has an unrequited passion for Valya, starts passing off Halifax’s museum studies as Old Master sketches. Halifax quickly overcomes his qualms about this arrangement, needing the money to prolong his stay when his funding runs out.
Everything becomes more intense with the Nazi occupation. Halifax is embroiled in a bid to foil German attempts to expropriate French art treasures. Posing as collaborationist art thieves, Halifax and Fleury trade forgeries of Renaissance paintings for ‘decadent’ art the invaders would otherwise burn.

 

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Pankratov is revealed as a master forger, and Valya, who turns out to be his adopted daughter, gets involved with the ruthless SS man in charge of the Nazi art mission. Halifax and Fleury secure a final commission to ‘locate’ Vermeer’s The Astronomer for Goering. Pankratov and his protégé duly come up with the goods.
For fans of conspiracy theories everywhere.

First published in The Irish Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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