The Case of the Upside-Down Hebrew

A Grave Talent, as my first book was dedicated to my husband, Noel–in Hebrew, which is only right between two scholars. Amos 3:4 means, more or less, Can two people walk together unless they be in agreement?

I know, scholars are really romantic, right?



Now, there are two mysteries here (beyond the mystery of married relationships, that is.) One, why was the Hebrew dedication to A Grave Talent flipped over in the first edition? Because if you don’t know Hebrew, the line linking the letters is supposed to be along the top.

And the second puzzle was, why was the Hebrew sometimes not topsy-turvy?

As to the first, I suppose it proves that St Martin’s Press at the time had no Jewish typesetters. The page I’d sent them with the Hebrew went in the wrong way. I noticed, let them know, and they fixed it for subsequent editions.

But as for the second question…

There are some copies of Grave Talent out there that have the numbers of a true first edition, and yet the Hebrew is the correct way around. And it’s possible that someone noticed halfway through the printing, fixed it, and finished the run. It’s possible.

The first edition, first printing is indicated by the countdown to 1. A number is dropped with each subsequent printing. (Different publishers do it different ways.)

On the other hand, there was a while in the Nineties and Aughties when modern first editions were a Big Thing. Recently published books—as in, within ten years or so of publication—could leap to ridiculous sums, if collectors thought the author was going to be a Big Thing. First editions of A Grave Talent went for as much as $1400.

And what happens when there’s quick money to be made? Right: forgery.

Of those, I am certain. The first one I saw was when someone handed me a copy to sign, and—as I generally did—I checked to see if it was a first draft, because personalizing a true first could reduce the value. This one said it was a first edition…except that the dedication was the right way around. And when I looked more closely, the dachshund logo on the title page looked somehow, well, photocopied.

Tom Dunne’s dog. Printed, not photocopied.

That’s right. Someone had taken apart some second editions, cut out the title page, photocopied the publishing history of a first edition on both sides of a replacement, and glued that one in. I actually had one that someone bought from a sidewalk display for $1, in which the glue was more obvious—clearly an early failed attempt.

The thing took on a life of its own. Mystery Scene wrote it up. That’s when the theory came along that the printers had themselves found the mistake and changed it. But honestly? A small printing, of an unimportant first-time author? Not only would no one have bothered, but they didn’t know before I told them.

Anyway, the bottom dropped out of the Modern First market after a while, and the books aren’t worth enough now to forge them.  I just hope you’re not one of those who shelled out a thousand dollars for the book. And if you find yourself with a “first edition” that has the correct Hebrew, well, do enjoy the story. All the words are the same.


Read about A Grave Talent (with order links), see the other Martinellis,

or order a signed copy.


  1. Terah Kuykendall on June 5, 2023 at 4:10 pm

    So what did you do? Did you tell the person?

    Such a brief story and already…INSTANT SUSPENSE!! Ha ha!!

    • Laurie on June 5, 2023 at 8:13 pm

      I did, but there remained a determined theory that their first edition was kosher. And since we’re no longer faced with a ridiculous monetary value, it hardly matters.

  2. Margaret Philp on June 18, 2023 at 9:32 pm

    Your research is always meticulous. Partly why I enjoy all the books so much.
    So I’m going to be picky. Tok Pisin is indeed a real language – (cf “Lockdown”) – it is one of the three official languages of Papua New Guinea. The others are English and Hiri Motu. It is easy to learn a few phrases, but difficult to learn to speak well and people have been known to make embarrassing mistakes!

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