The Dante Deception: Reading & Research List

The Dante Deception: Reading List

In The Natalie Brandon Series

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This book took quite a bit of research, but the sources were fascinating! It’s not really homework if you’d read about this stuff anyway, right? Anyhoo, if you’re also interested in art forgery, medieval manuscripts, Russian organized crime, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, or the Bolshoi ballet, here are the sources I used.

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Forgery, Medieval Manuscripts, Art

The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney

  • The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney. I can’t recommend this enough. Famous forgers, their techniques, how they were caught – I tore through this on a few cold winter nights. It’s as entertaining as a novel. After reading this, I wanted to put SO MUCH MORE info into the book. I had to hold myself back because the damn thing was already 100,000 words. Sigh.
  • Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury & Aly Sujo. This book focuses on one famous case – how a con man and a single dad tricked the British art world into buying and displaying hundreds of forged pieces of art. If you’ve ever wondered how to fake a provenance, this book gives you the dirty details. Surprisingly, these guys make it look pretty easy. I’m sure security has been tightened up since this, but still. Worth a read.
  • Websites & Documentaries
    • Khan Academy: Books and the Dissemination of Knowledge in Medieval Europe
      • Brighten up your Twitter feed! Follow course presenter Erik Kwakkel, a medieval book historian at Leiden. I love this guy.
    • How Does a Sotheby’s Art Auction Work?
    • Pigments through the Ages: Learn more about modern and ancient pigments, including the ultramarine Sinclair remembers Christof working so hard to perfect for a forged Vermeer.
    • Medieval Writing: Handling Medieval Manuscripts. What’s worse for a manuscript, oil or water? Acid or insects? Do you really need white gloves to handle one? This is a good source for basic info.
    • Medieval Calligraphy: This page has a great summary of popular medieval calligraphy styles, from copperplate to Carolingian miniscule. How’s that for a band name? Performing live – Carolingian Miniscule!
    • The Examination of the Book of Kells using Micro-Raman Spectroscopy: Interested in the science behind medieval manuscripts? This article from the Journal of Raman Spectroscopy discusses the pigments found in the Book of Kells, including indigo, red lead, orpiment, vergaut, carbon and iron gall, and gypsum.
    • The First Stolen Painting : Hans Memling’s “The Last Judgment.” (2019 update: Had to remove this link since it was 404ing…boo) Art heist fans, start your engines. The first recorded stolen painting was a triptych by Hans Memling. You can bet this catches Christof’s attention.

    Dante: The Inferno & the Vita Nuova

    The Inferno by Dante Alighieri

    • The Inferno by Dante Alighieri; translated by John Ciardi. The edition I used was much older – from 1954! I picked it up at a library book sale when I was in college and hung onto it, never knowing when it might come in handy. This is a reprint of the Ciardi translation I used.
    •  The Divine Comedy: Purgatory, Paradise and the Inferno, 2 volumes, illustrated editions. (2019 update: this expensive volume is not longer available on ABE Books, so I removed the link). Okay, so I don’t own these – check out the price tag! This is the book Natalie’s father had (it’s the one she steals from his library in Chapter 8). If you’re cheap like me, you can see all the illustrations in the World of Dante link below.
    • Dantean Dialogues: Engaging with the Legacy of Amilcare Iannucci; edited by Margaret Kilgour and Elena Lombardi. Good scholarly commentary on Dante’s work, life, and the themes that show up in the Inferno and elsewhere.


    Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Robbery

    Unsolved '72 Theft of Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
    Websites & Documentaries

    • Unsolved ’72 Theft of Montreal Museum of Fine Arts: This fantastic blog is a series of posts written by Catherine Schofield Sezgin. She has a degree in International Art Crime Studies, which is freaking awesome. In terms of sources, she spoke to Bill Bantey, the first person the museum security guard called after the theft. Her posts cover details of the robbery, as well as the pieces stolen.
    • Montreal Gazette article on the theft from Aug 21, 1982: “Great art heist still haunts Montreal museum, police.” Unlike the blog above, this article dates from nearer the time of the robbery.
    • “Le Colombo de l’art”: This 2:30 snippet from the full-length documentary of the same name is on Vimeo…but it’s in French and there are no English subtitles. YMMV. It’s about the detective, known as the “Colombo of Art,” who worked this case.

    The Bolshoi Ballet

    Open Studio 455: Behind the Scenes at SF Ballet
    Websites & Videos

    • (2019 update: looks like the ballet blog disappeared! boo) Myrtha Unveiled. In this piece, Elana Altman – a soloist with the San Francisco Ballet – talks about what it takes to play Myrtha in Giselle. This is the role Roza dances before Lazovsky gets her a promotion into the lead role.
    • YouTube: Giselle, Myrtha and the Wilis – see the role Altman describes above in this scene performed by the Paris Opera Ballet.
    • YouTube: Giselle Act II pas de deux – see Natalia Osipova and Carlos Acosta perform this famous scene on the Royal Opera House’s YouTube channel.
    • Barnsley ballerina Tala Lee Turton dances on Bolshoi stage. A bit of detail about what it takes to train for the Bolshoi.
    • Go for Fouetté Gold. In my book, Roza has a little trouble with her fouetté turns, just like her idol, Maya Plisetskaya. This post is where I got that little tidbit. There are some embedded videos here that show you different ballerinas’ techniques and styles in performing this move. All I can say is…wow.

    A Small Corner of Hell by Anna Politkovskaya
    The Chechen Wars


    • A Small Corner of Hell by Anna Politkovskaya. Yes, she’s biased. And yes, she was murdered for her criticism of the Putin regime. All politics aside, this is an unforgettable account of her trips to Chechnya during the course of the second Chechen War.
    • Russia’s Wars in Chechnya 1994-2009 by Mark Galeotti. When you have no idea what happened, you need something basic to start with. This primer runs through both Chechen wars with no frills. It’s more detailed than an outline, but it doesn’t stray into fluff or human experience. It’s solely about the who, what, when, where, and why.
    • Towers of Stone: The Battle of Wills in Chechnya by Wojciech Jagielski. Like Politkovskaya, Jagielski is a journalist on the ground in Chechnya to see how the war is affecting soldiers and civilians. Beautiful writing.
    • Piercing the Fog of War: Recognizing Change on the Battlefield: Lessons from Military History, 216 BC Through Today by Brian L. Steed. Hot damn, that’s a long book title. If you’re wondering what was so special about the guerrilla fighting during the Chechen wars, this book can help put it in a global and historical context for you.


    • Welcome Back from Hell. This photo essay contains images and statements from Russian soldiers who returned from Afghanistan or Chechnya with PTSD. Frightening, moving, fascinating.
    • The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies: The Post-Soviet Russian State facing War Veterans’ Psychological Suffering. This article, by Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski, is based on a series of 2010 interviews with veterans of the Chechen wars.
    • Chechen Syndrome. This piece highlights filmmaker Nick Sturdee’s study of Chechen Syndrome. You can actually watch parts 1 and 2 of Sturdee’s video. Again, harrowing but fascinating.
    • This post, “Witness Account Of Russian War Crimes In Chechnya,” is not for the faint of heart. It contains descriptions of alleged war crimes that might give you a few nightmares.

    Russian Organized Crime

    Comrade Criminal by Stephen Handelman

    • Comrade Criminal: Russia’s New Mafiya by Stephen Handelman. An in-depth and scholarly look at how Russian organized crime became so rich and so powerful. I mostly used the opening chapters, where Handelman described Russian criminal life from early days under the tsars to the infamous “Bitch War” after World War II. He conducted interviews with mobsters, police, and the KGB for this book.

    Websites & Documentaries

    • Maximum Security Prisons: A Comparative Analysis: (2019 update: another 404, another link removed…boo) This abstract of a longer work describes the conditions in Butyrka, a prison in Moscow. I didn’t end up placing any of my characters in a modern Russian prison…maybe later?
    • The Society of the Vory-v-Zakone, 1930s-1950s: This essay by Federico Varese gives a great summary of the behavior codes that governed the vory.
    • The Threat of Russian Organized Crime: This document, from the US Department of Justice, gives a good overview of how far organized crime stretches in Russia – and how it got that way. The beginning is more general, while the latter chapters focus specifically on the Urals.
    • The coded world of Russian prison tattoos. This is where I got the visuals for Valentin and Makar Lazovsky’s tattoos.
    • YouTube: Thieves by Law: This 2010 documentary is available on YouTube with English subtitles. Some of these men are still at large, living abroad. It’s fascinating to hear them describe the wild and woolly days after the fall of Communism. People made SO MUCH MONEY in SUCH A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME.

    Russian Government, Spies, and Hackers

    Expelled by Luke Harding


    • Wikipedia: Bet you didn’t know there was a Wikipedia page on how classified information is categorized in Russia. BOOM! Neither did I.
    • Digging Up the Hacking Underground. A super-basic look at how hackers are diversifying and some of the kits they create.
    • Taia Global: Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Internet Operations Against Ukraine. (2019 update: another vanished link…) Let’s say you’re a breakaway Soviet republic just trying to make it on your own. Let’s say the mother ship isn’t happy about it. How might they use ones and zeroes to screw you over? Let us count the ways.
    • Corporate Defense Strategies: This presentation tells you what to expect when you think someone’s trying to infiltrate your shit. This was a big help when writing Liliya’s scenes.

    Russia, General

    Among the Russians by Colin Thubron

    • Among the Russians by Colin Thubron. In 1980, Thubron traveled through Russia and collected his thoughts and experiences about ordinary Russian life. It’s a lyrical read, although he uses some really weird words sometimes. Just go with it. You’ll come away with as clear a picture as I think it’s possible to have about day-to-day life in late Communist Russia.
    • The Russians by Hedrick Smith. This one’s a classic! A lot of the details for Stepan Lazovsky’s chapter came from this book – like how the military elite had a special cafeteria in an unmarked building where they could get hot take-out meals that weren’t available to the general public.
    • A Russian Journal by John Steinbeck and Frank Capa. I wrote an entire post about this book – click here to read it. I found this book late in the research process, but couldn’t help getting it. What can I say? I’m a Salinas girl growing fonder of Steinbeck the older I get. His no-frills observations steer clear of politics and show you the post-war devastation in European Russia.

    Claudio Arrau playing Moonlight Sonata
    The Sinclairs: Whisky, Moonlight Sonata, and the Origin Story for the Dante Manuscript


    • University of Kentucky U Knowledge: Writing Moonlight: An Analysis of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Opus 27 No. 2 in C Sharp Minor. This is interesting because it’s a student paper written by a chemical engineering major. What makes Moonlight Sonata so powerful and so memorable? I know nothing about music, so it was helpful to have an outsider’s perspective in this paper.
    • IvoryandStrings: This is a listening log for Moonlight Sonata. It helped me figure out how to describe parts of the melody, so I knew what Sinclair was thinking when he heard it.
    • YouTube: Pianist Claudio Arrau playing Moonlight Sonata. I listened to a buttload of versions, but this is the one that stuck with me. I still can’t describe why. All the words I think of seem inadequate. Softer? Sadder? You be the judge.
    • B vs C in Moonlight. There is apparently still a debate over a particular note in Moonlight Sonata. B or C? Again, I’m no musicologist. I relied on this thread for help.
    • The Glenrothes: Yes, this is the super-expensive whisky Sinclair drinks throughout the book. Every time I reference this whisky, a Vanilla Ice lyric goes through my head: “Anything less than the best is a felony.” That was probably the first time in history The Glenrothes and Vanilla Ice have been linked in any way. You’re welcome.
    • Wikipedia: Andrea Doria. When Sinclair is concocting his provenance for the Dante manuscript, he sees a painting of a ship called the Andrea Doria. This is the man who bears that name.
    • Wikipedia: The Pamphilj family. Wikipedia can be surprisingly helpful when it comes to researching arcane genealogy. Here’s what it has to say on the connection between the Doria family and the Pamphilj.
    • Obituary for Princess Orietta Pogson Doria Pamphilj. Sinclair often bases his fake provenances on the lives and adventures of famous – but dead- people who can’t argue back. Here’s one of the Pamphilj family members he mentions in the book.
    • Palazzo Intrigue. A juicy article about the current heirs and the state of the princely Pamphilj family.
    • The Septic’s Companion: This is a comprehensive guide to British slang, written by a Scottish man living in America. Being as American as they come, I needed some help with Britspeak. This website is funny as well as helpful.

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    I write thrillers, romance, historical fiction, tiara posts, and more. Right now, I'm working on a nonfiction trilogy: Grand Duchess Hilda of Baden, Grand Duchess Elizaveta Mikhailovna of Russia, and Princess Augusta of Brunswick.