Review: The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro


☆☆➹⁀☆ 5 stars☆➹⁀☆☆


What it’s about:

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 nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life.


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Friends of mine visited the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum recently, and I was intrigued by their retelling of the infamous heist. I added B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger to my TBR list after being regaled with their stories of the museum. While The Art Forger is not about the theft per se, it is a novel that is tangentially related to the event and the still missing works of art.

Once I started the audio-version of the book, I was hooked. I did find the unexplained references to Claire’s past troubles confusing in the first three chapters, however, by chapter four the author starts to slowly reveal how Claire came to be the leper of the art world. That layered reveal feels like a parallel to the process by which Claire creates a forgery of Degas’ After the Bath.

Claire is a talented artist who is stymied by her repeated bad decisions. Leading the life of the literal starving artist, she is easily tempted by a Faustian offer from one of the most powerful art dealers in town, Aiden Markel. Her struggles with her past decisions and the ethics of the situation are eventually replaced with the lure of the reward—a one woman show that is guaranteed to make her an overnight success. Neither she nor Markel bargain on falling for one another.   Markel doesn’t feel fully developed through much of the story, but I think that is necessary in order to keep him more of a mystery and to keep both Claire and the reader guessing about his morals and intents. His bargain with Claire is questionable and seems too altruistic, however, as Claire begins to trust him more and eventually succumbs to a romantic relationship with him, I let down my guard as well and put him in the protagonist role.

The story tension is palpable and steadily increases as Claire manically works on the forgery as well as creating enough works for her show. Her study of Degas’ technique and her discoveries of how master forgers created their works is fascinating as is how Claire mimics those techniques using modern-day technology. As the plot thickened and deadlines approached, I found my stomach as tied up in knots as Claire. As the story approaches its zenith, it very much feels that Claire is on a collision course with disaster. What seemed so right and relatively easy becomes not only calamitous but dangerous.

The present-day story is interspersed with letters from Isabella Stewart Gardener to her niece depicting her addiction to collecting art as well as her flirtations with Degas. The use of the letters to give readers some background information about the history of the museum was a creative technique that left me wanting for more. It created more mystery throughout the book. While Shapiro’s story is more about Claire’s need for redemption, her ambition as an artist, and Markel’s zealous desires, it is also a smart mystery. The Art Forger will make you question what you might be willing to do to realize your dreams, while you read Shapiro’s entertaining page-turner.

The audiobook is excellently narrated By Xe Sands.


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