Sabina Murray's third novel, Forgery, delves into the decadent heart of an early '60s fraud.

Your first two novels, Slow Burn and A Carnivore's Inquiry, featured contemporary protagonists. How did you decide to write about mid—Cold War Rupert?

I've spent some time in Greece, on the island where some of the story takes place. There's a romance that I associate with traveling in Europe, at that time in the early 1960s. It's a little more glamorous, and then there's the political turmoil. And the distance gave me more freedom to create.

It was a pretty heady time.

It was Kennedy fabulous. And at the same time, there were Communist guerrillas on hilltops, and nuclear weapons in transit.

Your collection of linked stories, The Caprices, is set in the WWII era, and has a very different tone.

I felt that I had real responsibility to anybody who'd been affected by that war—people who fought in that war, who were civilians during that war, and who were the children of people who came through that war. I was having a lot more fun with Forgery. I wanted to have a good time with the book, and what these very decadent people do. Rupert is a character who creates his life out of what's aesthetically pleasing to him. His guiding force is that some things are beautiful, and that's enough.

It doesn't turn out too well.

He embraces the artificial in a way that almost justifies it.

But all we know is what he tells us.

I started the book in the third person, and it seemed so cold—bizarrely cold. Rupert is not a typically sympathetic character, so because of that I feel like I really have to bring people in. If you're reading in the first person, they love themselves, at least—maybe it lets you get in there with them and understand them more. And it kept me from going into serious Graham Greene mode and explaining too much.

What keeps you coming back to these characters who construct very strong and very flawed identities for themselves?

What interests me has less to do with identity than with ideas, sometimes fairly abstract, and what people do with them. With Forgery it was the idea of beauty, and how this person finds ways to create a life for himself based almost solely on that. It's almost like a work of art, when you work on who you are, and what you might do.