The Art Forger is an engaging thriller that revisits one of the most notorious American museum heists in recent memory.
The title character of The Art Forger is Claire Roth, a struggling Boston artist making ends meet by painting copies of famous works for a company that sells reproductions online. Three years earlier, Claire found herself blackballed by the art world following a scandal involving an ex-lover/teacher. Powerful gallery owner Aiden Markel re-enters Claire’s life with a dangerous proposal. Aiden has been drawn into the attempted sale of a famous Degas, a painting stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. Aiden offers Claire a big payday and a career-making show at his gallery if she creates a copy of the Degas. His plan is to sell the copy to his buyer and return the original to the Gardner.
In spite of misgivings, Claire accepts Aiden’s offer. As she spends more time with the painting, she becomes convinced that the “original,” the work that hung in the Gardner for decades, was itself a forgery. Aiden’s plan goes awry, putting both his and Claire’s lives and freedom in jeopardy. To save them both, Claire makes a desperate attempt to locate the original Degas.
The Gardner heist has inspired various books, movies and TV shows over the years. Author B.A. Shapiro came up with a unique angle, one that made creative use of the colorful histories of the museum and its iconic founder. The Art Forger builds a lot of suspense and drama into its plot and takes some intriguing twists and turns as it guides readers through the complicated web of the contemporary art world.
The real draw of The Art Forger, though, is Claire herself. She’s imperfect and makes some choices that will frustrate you, but she’s rather easy to like and root for. Shapiro does a great job of interweaving Claire’s present day circumstances, the fallout from her earlier scandal and the threads relating to the Gardner heist and Isabella Stewart Gardner’s own past. It’s not an action-heavy novel, but the story has strong momentum. Claire’s journey is compelling and original and readers will invest in what happens to her. If there’s one flaw, it’s that Claire is so vividly drawn that her surrounding cast can’t help but pale in comparison. That’s not really a problem, since Claire is the focus of the story and key supporting characters, like Aiden or Claire’s best friend Rik, manage to stand out.
The Art Forger goes into a lot of detail about the mechanics of creating a forgery, providing lots of keenly observed details. Shapiro doesn’t let those elements bog down the story. Instead, she finds way to make them vital and absorbing, and crucial to Claire’s realizations about the fake Degas and its origins. If you’re familiar with the Boston area and its famous museums, Shapiro evokes them very strongly, doing a great job of bringing the settings to life.
The Art Forger will appeal especially to art lovers, but it’s accessible and entertaining enough to be a worthwhile read for any thriller fan.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on April 1, 2016.