The Art Forger Synopsis
On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art, today worth over $500 million, were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.
Making a living reproducing famous artworks for a popular online retailer and desperate to improve her situation, Claire is lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting – a Degas masterpiece stolen from the Gardner Museum – in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when that very same long-missing Degas painting is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery.
Her desperate search for the truth leads Claire into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late 19th century may be the only evidence that can now save her life.
Genre: Romance, Mystery, Drama, Historical, Audio
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While all fictional writing can be traced back to real life triggering an author’s creative journey to some degree, I have come to particularly enjoy fiction that ties back to actual people or events in an overt manner.
Fiction elements can then be used to fill the inevitable voids in understanding of an event or encourage readers to think more about the motivations of the people that were involved or alternate scenarios that could have played out. In the same way movie studios have dubbed silent movies or added colour to film originally shot in black and white – fictionalising fact can significantly alter an audience’s interest in and response to the underlying ingredients.
B A Shapiro’s keen interest in an actual art gallery heist and what might have become of the paintings stolen spurned her creation of The Art Forger‘s cast and fictional storyline. Her interest in the subject matter – the robbery, art forgery and more broadly the people that populate the art world – has translated into vivid and detailed descriptive passages. While generally a positive and distinctive feature of this title, there were a few occasions where sufficient understanding of an artistic technique (based on prior narrative explanation) could have been assumed in order to more quickly advance the storyline.
And that brings me to the other key point I must make about The Art Forger – some published synopses have labelled it a ‘literary thriller’ – it is not a thriller. It is a highly entertaining mystery with a good dollop of romance and drama, but it lacks the suspense required to achieve thriller status in my opinion.
And is it literary? While the multiple narrative streams, one from recollection and the other via letters penned by a character long gone, added sufficient plot complexity to engage my mind considerably more than your average chick lit, it lacks the profundity or artistry in prose I expect from literature. Its exploration of the subjectivity of success in the art world and what people will risk to feed their passion (or obsession?) introduced depth, but I think The Art Forger sits more comfortably in the category of quality contemporary fiction.
The adventurous and strong-minded Isabella Stewart Gardner was by far the brightest star in the novel for me. Shapiro’s fictional characterisation of this historical Boston identity piqued my interest to such an extent that I sought out additional information about Gardner’s life and exploits — a lady well before her time.
The Art Forger is a novel highly suited to the audio format. I found Xe Sands narration well paced, her pronunciation clear and tone easy on the ear.
B A Shapiro’s The Art Forger entertained me while broadening my appreciation for an exciting time in history and the people that shaped it.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
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About the Author, B A Shapiro
In addition to The Art Forger, Barbara Shapiro is the author of five suspense novels The Safe Room, Blind Spot, See No Evil, Blameless and Shattered Echoes as well as the non-fiction book, The Big Squeeze. She lives in Boston and teaches creative writing at Northeastern University. Check out her website.