Anonymous author shows his true colours

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So the joyless gumshoes of the American press have finally succeeded in solving one engaging mystery of an otherwise unengaging political year. Beyond reasonable doubt, it now appears, the "Anonymous" author of the best-selling political novel Primary Colors is, after all, Joe Klein, columnist for Newsweek magazine.

All last winter, as Bob Dole plodded to his utterly predictable victory in the Republican nomination stakes, the real guessing game for political junkies was another: Who wrote the hilarious roman-a-clef based on Bill Clinton's scandal-strewn roller-coaster through the primaries four years earlier?

Given the author's uncannily accurate eye for detail, it was quickly obvious that he (or she) was either a worker on the campaign or a journalist who covered it. In the latter group, a computer comparison of the style of the novel with the writings of leading contenders established Mr Klein as the leading suspect. But he denied all, and there the matter seemed to rest.

No longer. the Washington Post obtained an early manuscript of Primary Colors with its author's handwritten corrections, and samples of the handwriting of Mr Klein. Then it enlisted Maureen Casey Owens, "a top document examiner and former president of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists", to take a look.

Her verdict came on the paper's front page yesterday. The two samples of handwriting were "absolutely consistent" throughout - and, if the magnified specimens of "w," "i," and "t," displayed in the Post's article are anything to go by, no layman could disagree. Confronted with the new evidence, the Klein denial became a terse "no comment." The game, alas, is surely up.

But Mr Klein (assuming it is he) has the consolation of having made himself a very rich man. US hardback sales top 500,000, foreign rights are flowing in, and a film is on the way. By the end of the day Primary Colors will have netted at least $6m. Mr Klein, the Post noted, bought a $630,000 house in the New York suburbs in July last year, putting up half that sum in cash. He also has three cars (though the newest of them is two years old).

For their part, fans of the book have the consolation that Mr Klein's witty and racy political column is available every week in Newsweek, and that more from Anonymous is on the way. In a chirpy contribution to the New York Times book review a few weeks back, America's best-known unknown complained of suffering "post-traumatic success disorder". But, he continued, "I am free to try my hand at this again. And believe me, I will."