To Catch a Thief, 1955

From the London Review of Books:

‘Why on earth is someone stealing unpublished book manuscripts?’ the Times asked. They could not answer the question, and neither could anyone else, beyond saying that this was one of these weird things, basically, which may be more of a satisfactory answer than people like to admit. All this stealthing around would, of course, have taken on an entirely different cast had there been any evidence that it was being done for motives of greed or revenge. As matters seemed to stand, however, there was not. The manuscript would be sent, the error would be realised, the wait for the menacing email would begin, and then – nothing! The end! Even people who reasonably got the creeps about the lengths to which the thief was prepared to go to secure a copy of Beautiful World Where Are You? before it hit the shelves could find nothing more to say about what was happening than that it was weird.

Someone has now been arrested on suspicion of this weird behaviour, and is facing federal criminal charges for what the prosecutor terms ‘his misdeeds’. Filippo Bernardini, a 29-year-old Italian employee of Simon & Schuster in London, was nabbed by the FBI on arrival at JFK on 5 January. In a statement the prosecutor said that Bernardini ‘allegedly impersonated publishing industry individuals in order to have authors, including a Pulitzer prize winner, send him prepublication manuscripts for his own benefit’. The prosecutor didn’t expand on what that benefit might be.

If found guilty, Bernardini could get up to twenty years in prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, because tricking people into sharing copies of manuscripts with you turns out to be seriously illegal even if you are not going to do anything with the manuscripts except read them, or maybe just stare at them in your inbox and think: I love books. Reading is the life for me.

“The Manuscript Thief”, Rosa Lyster, LRB

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