The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century by Edward Dolnick. Harper, 2008.
The Forger's Spell falls somewhere between the last two books I reviewed, Provenance and Stealing the Mystic Lamb. While not a completely straightforward recounting of a crime and its unraveling like Provenance, it is a more engaging study of art crime than Stealing the Mystic Lamb. It tells the story of the forgery of a series of Vermeer paintings by Han Van Meegeren in the Holland of the 1930s and 40s. There is a thread of Van Meegeren throughout the book, but it is not until Parts 4 and 5 that you begin to see his full story woven together.
As Dolnick says in his preface, "the central question is not whodunit but, instead, howdunit?" In answering this question, Dolnick not only presents the facts but also uses interesting and relevant examples from various disciplines and eras to illustrate his points.The reader learns about Vermeer, other historical fraud cases, and the Nazi obsession with great art. This background provides useful insight into the case of Van Meegeren. World War II and the Nazis play an especially central role in the eventual exposure of this art fraud.
Overall, I enjoyed The Forger's Spell. While I still prefer a more fiction-like narrative, Dolnick's writing style was engaging. He strikes a fine balance between historical study and storytelling. If you like art, crime, or even World War II stories, I think you'll like The Forger's Spell.