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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

You Don't Have to Know Dali from Degas to Enjoy This Compelling Literary Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In Boston's cutthroat world of professional art, forgers are not looked upon with even a modicum of respect.  Claire Roth should know.  It doesn't matter that the 31-year-old painter copies great works of art in a perfectly legal—and not unprofitable—manner.  Ever since the shocking betrayal that made her a pariah in the art community three years ago, she, and her work, have received nothing but disdain.  Until now.  When Aiden Markel, an influential art dealer, expresses interest in Claire's paintings (not her copies, but her originals), she can hardly believe it.  When he offers her a show at his very well-respected gallery, she's over the moon.  When he explains the catch, she's tempted.  Oh, so very tempted.

In exchange for a show at Markel's uber chic gallery (and $50,000), Claire will have to forge a painting.  Not copy a painting, like she does every day for, but actually forge a painting.  As in, copy a masterpiece, that will be passed off as the original.  It's not just any painting either, but a Degas.  And not just any Degas, but one that was stolen from Boston's elite Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.  Claire knows Markel's proposition is unethical, immoral and completely illegal.  And yet, it's the chance of a lifetime, a chance to prove her worth to the community that has dubbed her "The Great Pretender."

With the stolen masterpiece as her guide, Claire begins to recreate the famous Degas.  But the more she studies it, the more concerned she becomes.  Something's not right with the painting.  Determined to understand the mystery before her, Claire begins researching the painting's origins and makes some very startling discoveries.  As her forgery makes its way into the world, she must decide what's most important—the truth or her future as an artist.

Although the painting at the center of The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro is fictional, the theft the book describes is not.  On March 18, 1990, two thieves really did rob the museum, making off with thirteen works of art, including pieces by Degas, Rembrandt and Vermeer.  The identities of the criminals remain unknown, as do the whereabouts of the stolen art.  Although tragic, the event makes a very compelling backdrop for a literary thriller.  You don't have to know a Degas from a Dali to become completely absorbed in this fast-paced, tightly-plotted tale about a tortured artist and her obsession to be recognized for her own talent.  With a whole cast of finely-drawn, realistically-flawed story people, The Art Forger will appeal to fans of both plot-based and character-based fiction.  It's that engrossing, that mesmerizing.  Easily my favorite read of the year, this one is not to be missed.

(Readalikes:  I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:  A

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder invectives) and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Art Forger from the generous folks at Algonquin via ELLE Magazine's Reader's Jury program.  Thank you!   


  1. May I recommend Stealing Mona Lisa, by Carson Morton? It's also a fictional account inspired by a historical theft. It is full of well-drawn characters and delightful details.

  2. Oh wow! This one sounds good. How do you read all these books I've never heard of?


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