Rembrandt Sings

“I have never before read a book which gives such a memorable insight into the mind of an art forger”

John Myatt, Genuine Fakes

In Rembrandt Sings, the latest novel by Michael Johnston, ambitious art historian Bill Maguire searches Paris for a subject for his doctoral thesis and follows up faint clues about once famous abstract painter Alexander Golden. Maguire finds himself in Carmel listening to the death-bed confessions of Joe Rembrandt, an art forger on an industrial scale, and meets beautiful Anna Glover whose life seems somehow connected with the dying man.

But when Anna’s lawyer boss completely debunks Rembrandt’s story, he decides it’s time to get out and write his thesis. Unable, however, to get out of his mind Joe’s assertion that he found where Golden disappeared to with his mistress and a cache of his never-beforeseen canvases that could be worth millions, Bill searches around Arles for Golden’s farmhouse hideaway that probably never existed outside Rembrandt’s imagination.

He finds Anna there before him and hears yet another version of Joe’s story. Together, they make the discovery that adds love, greed, insanity, academic dishonesty and very likely murder into the mix before leading to a completely unforeseen outcome.

Rembrandt Sings – a tale of forgery, sex, and, quite possibly, murder

Michael Johnston is a writer who lives in Barnet; all of which seems unlikely.

“Johnston’s handling of art and duplicity makes for a compelling composition – his colour and originality is tempered with enough sinister dark, and authoritative realism, to entrap and engage the reader throughout.”

Philip Mould OBE, Director of Philip Mould & Company,
Specialist Dealer in British Art and Old Masters;
and co-presenter of BBC TV’s Fake or Fortune?

“A fiendishly clever story written with self-assured panache as told by unreliable narrators. I was torn between a desire to race ahead to find out what would happen next and a wish to linger on and enjoy the prose. Why isn’t this a bestseller?”

Donald Sassoon,
Professor of Comparative European History,
Queen Mary, University of London

“Art historian Bill Maguire tells the reader his life story in Johnston’s new novel. At least, he narrates a version of his life: he is clearly a constant reviser of material from his journals, and undercuts much of what he says with sardonic footnotes. His story is bound up with that of a rather older man, a painter named Joe Rembrandt, and most of Maguire’s story is taken up with Joe’s recital of his own life story, told to the young Bill while in the last stages of terminal illness. And in turn, Rembrandt’s story is bound up with (fictional) painter Alexander Golden, whose daughter he married. Or perhaps not: it is clear fairly quickly that not only is Bill Maguire an unreliable storyteller, so is Joe Rembrandt, even if he does share an insight into Golden’s paintings which Maguire uses to establish his academic reputation.

What unites these characters is a love for (and knowledge of) fine art. Even their involvement in dubious activities – including forgery and possibly, murder, as the front cover puts it – is fuelled by and part of their love for painting. Johnston captures the power of their obsession well, which is particularly useful, as it is of vital importance to the plot, as well as making the characters sympathetic: a forgery (and even a murder) for the love of art is easier to accept than the same crime carried out just to make money. […]

Painting is not really my thing (colour blindness means that I tend to have problems perceiving pictures in the same way as people with normal vision), but I do enjoy fiction about art. I was in fact just starting Michael Gruber’s Forgery of Venus as I finished Rembrandt Sings, another novel about art forgery, with a rather different slant on the subject. And I love Iain Pears’ Jonathan Argyll series, which seem to have finished, unfortunately; they are more traditionally crime stories, and have less convincing forgers than Joe Rembrandt (which is not surprising, as it is  not the point of the books). I don’t think that, even though music is the art form dearest to me, I would find a musical faker as interesting as the characters in this book, no matter how well done.

Altogether, I found this an interesting and impressive picture of the forger, with a clever twist, though lacking in pace for most of the time. My rating: 7/10.”

Simon McLeish, Blogger,
reviewed Rembrandt Sings at SimonsBookBlog