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.