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 Reproductions.com – 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.

Son by Lois Lowry

Although dystopian future worlds seem to have become popular recently, Lois Lowry has been writing about them for years. If you are a fan of The Giver, you may remember Jonas and his flight to Elsewhere, with a baby boy designated to be destroyed. If you have not read Lowry’s book (or can’t remember its plot), you can still enjoy the drama of the boy’s mother, in her quest to find her boy in Son.

Claire’s world is that amazing futuristic utopia with controlled climates, no insects or rodents, designated jobs (including Claire’s as Birthmother) – emotionless, disciplined, and well-ordered. No anomalies are allowed. Expecting to continue with her new duties in the fish hatchery, after failing to deliver her baby naturally, Claire is surprised that she has feelings for her new-born (someone forgot to give her the pills for impassivity). When she finds her baby in the care facility, he is not conforming well – seems he doesn’t like naps and wants to be held.

On the eve of her son’s fate, he disappears with Jonas, and Claire mysteriously manages to board a freighter ship, fall overboard, and is rescued. Finding herself suddenly in a new world, Claire at first becomes a mystifying heroine, becoming an apprentice to the old woman healer and midwife. Her memory returns when she is assisting in a birth, and her focus becomes finding her son.

The book switches to Claire’s quest – her preparation and training to climb the dangerous mountain that will lead her out of the village and hopefully to the man who will take her to her son – for a price. Lowry details her training, from one-handed push-ups to slippery runs with rocks in her backpack. Her trainer is Einar, a young man, now crippled from his unsuccessful attempt to get out. Her actual climb is thrilling; Lowry will have you gasping at each slip of foot, drop of the glove, and the attack by a mother gull protecting its nest.

After Claire makes a deal with the evil Trademaster, she finds her son, now a young man who is yearning to learn about his roots. But Claire’s trade has left her unrecognizable.

Lowry ends the tale with a satisfying triumph of good over evil, and with a rewarding reveal for her fans who wondered about the fate of Jonas and Gabe.