The Worlds of R. A. Hortz
Detecting Forgery

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Detecting Forgery

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Detecting Forgery
Forensic Investigation of Documents
By Joe Nickell
The University Press of Kentucky, 2005
ISBN: 0-8131-9125-4

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - Posted February 24, 2012

The use of forgery as a plot element has a long and honored place in the realm of mystery writing as well as many other literary genres. The trick about using forgery as a plot element is that it is important to get the facts right, and to have your sleuth effectively explain how the forgery was detected. For authors interested in 'getting it right' I recommend that they read through Detecting Forgery: Forensic Investigation of Documents by Joe Nickell. This is an easy to understand text that covers just about everything from examining handwriting styles to the techniques used by forgers. In addition, a detailed overview is provided that examines the people, the techniques, and the tools that are used to detect forgeries of both modern and historic documents.

The text is divided essential into two main parts. The first part deals with the fundamentals of forgery and the development of handwriting, graphology, and forensic handwriting analysis. The second part of the book is devoted primarily to the study of the various scientific techniques used to determine if a document or signature has been forged. Techniques discussed include macroscopic and microscopic study, spectral techniques, chemical and instrumental tests, and the various approaches used by document examiners to determine a documents authenticity.

Throughout Detecting Forgery, Nickell provides telling examples of how scientifically based examination of documents has been used to uncover several substantial forgeries, such as the forged autobiography of Howard Hughes by Clifford Irving, the forged diary of Jack the Ripper, and Mark Hoffman's disquieting forgeries of supposed Mormon documents. While the bulk of the text is devoted to detecting forgeries, Nickell also provides informative examples of how forgeries are created and the tools that forgers use. For me, this was the most intriguing section of the book, in part because this information will prove useful to writers who want to create a character who happens to be either a professional or amateur forger. It will also provide substantial information that can be used by your sleuth or investigative team to catch the bad guys!

In short, you will find tons of useful information and factoids that can easily be used to provide authenticity to your story. Should you find this topic intriguing, through Nickell's end notes and list of recommended works, you will find a wealth of books that can be used to further investigate this topic. It goes without saying that in addition to writers, this book will enthrall both amateur and professional criminologists interested in learning more about the science and practice of creating and detecting forgeries.

Joe Nickell is a Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). He is also the author of Camera Clues: A Handbook for Photographic Investigation and the co-author of Crime Science: Methods of Forensic Detection.

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