New York Times Bestseller
#1 IndieNext Pick
New England Society Book Awards Winner for Fiction
“Must Read” for Massachusetts
Finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award
Boston Globe’s Top Mysteries of 2012
The Art Forger
In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, two men dressed as police officers bound and gagged two guards at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, and stole thirteen works of art worth today over $500 million. Despite thousands of hours of police work and a $5 million reward, the artwork has never been recovered. Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.
After a scandal involving the provenance of an acclaimed modern painting derails Claire Roth’s career, the promising young Boston artist, now a pariah in the art world, makes a living reproducing famous works of art for the popular online retailer, Reproductions.com. In a desperate move to improve her situation, Claire makes a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner, to forge a Degas masterpiece stolen during the Gardner Museum heist, the largest unsolved art theft in history, in return for a one-woman show at his gallery. Their romantic entanglement adds danger to their business arrangement and heightens the possibility of betrayal as each struggles to achieve the end that initially drove them into their illegal pact.
But when the long-missing Degas painting—the one which had been hanging for 100 years at the Gardner Museum—is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may not be the original, but a forgery itself. As she begins her search for the truth about the painting’s origins and its possible link to a secret relationship between Edgar Degas and Isabella Stewart Gardner—revealed to the reader through Isabella’s letters to her niece—Claire finds herself in a breathless race through a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late 19th century may hold the key to the mysteries of the present.
—The New York Times Book Review
“Readers seeking an engaging novel about artists and art scandals will find The Art Forger rewarding for its skillful balance of brisk plotting, significant emotional depth and a multi-layered narration rich with a sense of moral consequence.”
—The Washington Post
I step back and scrutinize the paintings. There are eleven, although I have hundreds, maybe thousands. My plan is to show him only pieces from my window series. Or not. I pull my cell from my pocket, check the time. I can still change my mind. I remove Tower, a highly realistic painting of reflections off the glass Hancock building, and replace it with Sidewalk, an abstraction of Commonwealth Avenue through a parlor-level bay window. Then I switch them back.
I’ve been working on the window series for over two years, rummaging around the city with my sketchbook and Nikon. Church windows, reflective windows, Boston’s characteristic bays. Large, small, old, broken, wood- and metal-framed. Windows from the outside in and the inside out. I especially like windows on late winter afternoons before anyone inside notices the darkening sky and snaps the blinds shut.
I hang Sidewalk next to Tower. Now there are a dozen, a nice round number. But is it right? Too many and he’ll be overwhelmed. Too few and he’ll miss my breadth, both in content and style. It’s so difficult to choose. One of the many reasons studio visits make me so nervous.
And what’s up with this visit anyway? I’m a pariah in the art world, dubbed “The Great Pretender”. Have been for almost three years. And suddenly Aiden Markel, the owner of the world-renowned Markel G, is on his way to my loft. Aiden Markel, who just a few months ago barely acknowledged my presence when I stopped by the gallery to see a new installation. And now he’s suddenly all friendly, complimentary, asking to see my latest work, leaving his tony Newbury Street gallery to slum it in SOWA in order to appreciate my paintings, as he said, “in situ.”
The Writing of The Art Forger
Originally published in The Algonquin Reader, Volume 1, Issue 2
I‘m a cowardly writer. Some writers sit down and begin a novel without knowing where it will end, trusting the process to bring their story to a satisfying conclusion. But not me. I don’t have the courage to begin a book until I know there’s an end—and a middle too. I need an outline that allows me to believe my idea might be transformed into a successful novel. Some writers need a working title; I need a working plot. Which is why it takes me so damn long to get from that first glimmer of an idea to a complete manuscript.
The Art Forger was no different. The first time I encountered art collector and museum founder Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1983, I fell in love. I wanted to hang out with her, walk lions down Boston streets with her, buy famous paintings, and do all kinds of outrageous things that would scandalize the stuffed shirts around us. But, alas, she died in 1924. I dismissed the idea of a “Belle” novel because she intimidated me—see, more cowardice—but I never forgot her.
1. At the novel’s opening, Claire is a pariah in the art world. Has the community been unfair to her? In what ways, if any, is she responsible for her own exile? Does she share any blame for Isaac Cullion’s death?
2. The Art Forger explores the darker side of human nature. All of the characters in the novel have a price, a line they’re willing to cross to further their own ambitions. Do you think Claire does the wrong things for the right reasons? Is she a moral person or not? What about Isabella Stewart Gardener? What compromises would you make to secure what you most desire?
3. B. A. Shapiro juggles three plot lines in the novel, moving back and forth through time. Each section tells of secrets and deceit. How does each of these storylines intersect and deepen the themes of the novel?