The Fixer

9780525954613_p0_v3_s192x300In Joseph Finder’s The Fixer, Rick Hoffman finds a pile of hundred-dollar bills – over three million dollars – in the crawl space of his father’s old house in Boston.  With this electrifying premise, Hoffman begins a tale of corruption and undercover payoffs connected to Boston’s Big Dig.

Rick, an investigative reporter who has just lost his job, while happy to find the unexpected windfall, suspects his father, now paralyzed by a stroke, could reveal the secrets behind the mystery – if only he could speak.  As he investigates his father’s past, Rick discovers a crusading attorney who helped the underdog but who also funded his pro bono cases with laundered money from illegal sources. Rick’s father was the “fixer,” a go-between who was rewarded with cash.

The story has frantic moments, red herrings, and enough plot turns to sustain the suspense but I found myself just wanting to know “how the story ends,” and skipping over extraneous dialogue and irrelevant descriptions.  The big reveal included a happy ending, with the good guys getting the bad guys.

A fast summer read full of dirty money and atonement – The Fixer was a fun way to pass the time.  Maybe it’s time to clean out the attic – no telling what is in there.

The Boston Girl

9781439199350_p0_v3_s260x420Anita Diamant uses legacy writing as her vehicle for telling the story of The Boston Girl. As she tells her granddaughter about her life from 1915 to 1985, Addie Baum, a young Jewish girl growing up in the North End of Boston, could be any first generation girl from immigrant parents. As Addie slowly recounts the milestones in her life, the story takes a while to pick up steam, but her determination to overcome the low expectations for women in the early twentieth century, and her subsequent experiences, offer an insider history lesson worth reviewing.

Like most bright women of that era, Addie has to fight for opportunities to learn and work in traditionally male-dominated venues. But the value of her telling her life story to her granddaughter has more to do with revealing who she is and preserving a legacy for future generations. Addie’s friends and mentors would be invisible otherwise, and her story lost when she dies. When Addie’s granddaughter expresses surprise that her mother was the valedictorian at her college graduation, the incident clearly demonstrates how little children and grandchildren know us – unless we tell them.

Just like the Biblical heroines in her book The Red Tent, Diamant uses women as the storytellers who are preserving history. The Boston Girl is an easy, comfortable book and it offers a familiar perspective on women’s history, but perhaps the underlying directive to tell your unique story before it is lost is the greater message to readers.

Have you participated in legacy writing as the listener/recorder or the story teller?

Related ArticleLegacy Writing

Still Missing After All These Years

11162-a-blank-picture-frame-thMarking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the famous art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Tom Mashberg’s article in the Sunday New York Times – Still Missing After All These Years – reminded me of one of my favorite books – The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro.  Shapiro solves the crime of the stolen paintings in her novel, but the real culprits have never been found.  Empty frames mark the spots where Gardner had chosen to display her Rembrandts, Vermeer, Manet, and Degas sketches.  In her bequest, Gardner specified that after her death no item could be moved from the spot she had chosen to display it.  The thieves left the frames and took the paintings.

Nonfiction books have speculated on the crime: Ulrich Boser wrote The Gardner Heist in 2010, and Mashberg himself teamed with the head of security at the museum, Anthony Amore, to write the 2012  Stealing Rembrandts:  the Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists – a book that includes a number of thefts, including the three Rembrandts stolen from the Gardner museum. But the paintings’ whereabouts remain a mystery.  In fiction, Katherine Weber’s The Music Lesson speculates that a valuable Vermeer (not the one stolen from the Gardner museum) quietly hangs on the wall in West Cork, Ireland.

Only B.A. Shapiro has solved the case.  If you have never read The Art Forger, the silver anniversary of the perfect crime might be a good time.

Read my review of Shapiro’s book – The Art Forger


The Good House by Ann Leary

179512529Hildy Good, successful realtor and descendant of a famous colonial witch, knows everyone and everything in her small New England town on Boston’s North Shore – except herself – in Ann Leary’s The Good House. Although Hildy is an alcoholic in “recovery” after her daughters staged an intervention and sent her to rehab, she only drinks alone now and stashes her wine in the trunk of an old car for the summer, and in the basement for the colder winters. Leary effectively uses Hildy’s denial to reveal other secrets in the small town that involve betrayal, snobbery, confusion, and the ongoing rivalry between the local townies and the newly rich who have discovered the town’s charm.

A quick enjoyable and engaging read, with a little drama when a dead body is found in the ocean, and a love story that rekindles in middle age – The Good House manages to include a moral with its slow spin of a New England yarn.

The Art Forger

9781616201326Do you believe everything you see?   B. A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger –  a mix of art history, crime drama, and mystery – may challenge your perspective.

Claire Roth, with her newly minted MFA degree, continues working on her contemporary art paintings while paying the bills with her job at – a company that specializes in copies of famous art.  Because Claire’s specialty is Degas, and because she has a reputation for fooling even the best art authenticators, Aiden Markel – a famous art dealer – targets her for his black market sale of a stolen Degas original.

As she prepares to reproduce the painting of “After the Bath,” stolen from the Gardner Museum in Boston, Claire realizes that the painting is a forgery.  Not wanting to risk the showing of her own work that the dealer has promised as payment, she conceals the truth and finishes her copy of the copy.  But secrets are hard to keep, and Shapiro creates a complicated tale woven with the process of restoring and copying art, the shady underworld of the art dealers, and one woman’s quest for self-actualization.

The mystery surrounds the real Degas: where is it and who painted the copy that fooled the world? Using a real historical figure, wealthy Isabella Stewart Gardner, who had a reputation for “walking lion cubs and drinking beer,” Shapiro creates a  fictional series of letters by the early twentieth century art collector.  The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum opened in Boston in 1903, but is most famous for the celebrated unsolved theft of works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Degas in 1990.  Shapiro uses these historical facts and adds a scenario around the original owner that is not only believable but also adds an element of curiosity to the suspense.  When the possibility of jail time and underworld brutes taking revenge mixes with the media appetite for salacious information, the plot intensifies.  Although you may skip over the details for tediously reproducing forged images, you will attend to the drama and hope that all ends well for poor Claire.

My friendly librarian alerted me to this fun read, and a fellow reader confirmed that it was “the best book” she read this year.   When I looked for more books by this author, most were out of print.  After writing five suspense thrillers, Barbara Shapiro may have finally hit the right formula.  Hopefully, this success will motivate a reprinting of some of her former stories.  The Art Forger has just the right mix of information and thrilling suspense, and will leave you with a feeling of all plots solved, after an intellectually satisfying ride.