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The Art Forger: A Novel Hardcover – October 23, 2012

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Editorial Reviews Review

Guest Essay by B.A. Shapiro, Author of The Art Forger

Beth Orsoff

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.

Then in 1990, she burst on the scene, or at least her namesake, Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, did, when two men dressed as police officers bound and gagged two guards and stole thirteen pieces of art, including Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Vermeer's The Concert, and works by Degas and Manet from the collection. Now, I thought, now I might just be able to make it work.

But despite the media taking the theft international, suspects who ran the gamut from the Mafia to the Vatican, and the lack of any arrests, I just couldn't find my story. What could Belle possibly have to do with a heist seventy years after her death? How could I write a book about a robbery that hadn't been solved? What if it was solved before I was finished--or worse just after I'd completed it--and the real solution was nothing like mine? Cowardly writer that I am, I put the idea back in the drawer.

Nineteen years later, the mystery of the Gardner heist still hadn't been solved, and Belle was still haunting me. I read half a dozen biographies and hundreds of letters, and I scoured the Internet. I was thinking I might do something like Irving Stone or Gore Vidal would, writers whose books I loved, and considered a fictionalized biography. But embracing the entirety of Isabella Gardner's action-packed life was too daunting--some things never change--so, once again, Belle was shelved.

Around this time I began taking a series of art courses that toured galleries and museums with a well-known artist for a guide. She opened my eyes, not just to the wonder of what we were seeing, but to the complicated worlds of creating, collecting, curating, and selling works of art. I also developed a fascination with art theft and art forgery. Now, I thought, now I really might have my Belle book. So I wrote synopses, created plot charts, developed character sketches, then scratched it all and did it again. I was growing closer, but the pieces weren't all quite there; something was missing: I couldn't see the end.

Simultaneously, I was struggling with writing and wondering if I should just give up the whole endeavor. One day, as I was ruminating on how difficult life was for anyone in the arts and feeling more than a bit sorry for myself, my missing link appeared in the form of a question: What would any of us be willing to do to secure our ambitions? Unknown artists, famous artists, collectors, brokers, and gallery owners? Me? Belle?

So I expanded my cast of characters and gave each one a temptation their egos couldn't resist, including a struggling artist willing to make the ultimate Faustian bargain, and then I added them to the mix of art theft, art forgery, the Gardner Museum heist, and, of course, my buddy Belle. Suddenly, just like the Cowardly Lion, who became brave when he had his medal, I became brave when I had my plot. The Art Forger is the result.


Boston Globe's Best Crime Books of 2012
2012 NetGalley Pick
Kobo's Best Fiction Ebooks of 2012

The Art Forger is the real thing.” ―


“[A] nimble mystery.”―The New York Times Book Review


"Gripping." ―O, The Oprah Magazine
“[A] highly entertaining literary thriller about fine art and foolish choices.” ―Parade

"Precise and exciting . . . 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

"If Bridget Jones's Diary and The Da Vinci Code had a love child, this would be it." ―Elle (Reader's Panel Reviewer)

“[Shapiro] has such interesting things to say about authenticity―in both art and love―that her novel becomes not just emotionally involving but addictive.” ―Entertainment Weekly

"Ingeniously and skillfully plotted." ―The Huffington Post

“Warning: Don’t dig into this book if you have something to do . . . An addictive thriller.” ―Redbook

“An engaging tale about art, cupidity, and a Faustian bargain . . . Shapiro convincingly depicts the rarefied art world that lionizes a chosen few and ignores the talented, scrabbling outsiders on the fringe. Shapiro is adept, too, at showing the white-hot heat of an artist engaged in creating a painting. She knows art history, painting techniques, and how forgers have managed through the centuries to dupe buyers into paying for fakes . . . Inventive and entertaining.” ―The Boston Globe


“Smart, sexy . . . spellbinding.”


“An intelligent, cleverly plotted page-turner.” ―Minneapolis Star Tribune 


“Engaging storytelling. Intelligent entertainment.” ―Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1 edition (October 23, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616201320
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616201326
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2,220 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #287,345 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Barbara J. Mitchell VINE VOICE on November 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There was no way I would miss this wonderful novel. For one thing, book bloggers I trust loved it. Secondly, I spent a lovely day in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston long ago, before thieves made off with art worth about $500 million today, and I was completely taken with this sort of quirky museum founded by a sort of quirky rich lady.

The story wasn't quite what I expected but that's a good thing. It doesn't involve the thefts directly but that's always in the background informing the plot. This is about a struggling young artist who is brilliantly talented but has been caught up in unfortunate circumstances due to love gone wrong. Claire Roth is her name. She makes a living, such as it is, copying great paintings for a reproduction company.

Then Claire makes a Faustian bargain with an art gallery owner who promises to produce her first show. She believes fervently that what she is doing is legal but it sets her off on a search for a real Degas that she believes has been forged. The plot is complex and so is the art technique she eventually uses but it isn't at all difficult for this non-artist to follow. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about painting.

Highly recommended reading.
Source: Amazon Vine - thank you.
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407 of 463 people found the following review helpful By Evelyn Getchell TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Art Forger: A Novel by B. A. Shapiro is presented as a literary thriller and on its cover author of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, Arthur Golden, promises a novel that will "leave you with a new appreciation of how paintings are made, evaluated, and understood - not to mention how they're copied."

Well that sold me! I am always game for learning more about fine art and the book's title, THE ART FORGER, suggested to me a topic I could really get involved in. I have a love for the Impressionists and a special fondness for Degas; I also love a good thriller so this book sounded perfect for me. It is a fictionalized account of the unsolved 1990 art heist from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Included in that robbery were priceless masterpieces of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Degas.

The cover blurbs already set the story up quite extensively and outline the plot. So I will just tell you what I liked and disliked about this book. It's definitely not great literature. Nor is it especially well written. At best it is light reading and just barely worthy of my 3 star rating for "fair."

I'll save the best for last and begin with what did not work for me:
- The prose is lackluster and jejune. I was hoping for language that would match the beauty of the great works of art that are at the core of this story but alas the prose lacks any lyricism and is rendered into the dry and elemental.
- The plotting is over-managed and too pat. It takes much too long to get off the ground and then when it does it moves in a predictable direction, attempting unsuccessfully to dodge the several sinkholes that open up in the plot.
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124 of 146 people found the following review helpful By G. Kellner VINE VOICE on October 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Claire works for, copying works of Old Masters for sale to well-to-do clients who can't afford the original. A gallery owner makes a deal with her--copy Degas's "After the Bath-5"--the painting that was stolen in an art heist in 1990 and has never been seen since and he'll give her her own show at his gallery. Claire, who has been blackballed in the art world over a work by her professor/ex-lover, jumps at the chance. He brings her the original--the stolen painting. Only--Claire figures out it's a copy as well. There's more to the story, but that's the gist--I don't want to give it all away. I did learn a lot about art forgery and about painting in general. I also liked learning about the insular little art world and the people that populate it. A good bit of history as well, although we find out later there was no "After the Bath" part 5--Degas' Bath series ended with 4. But it definitely kept my attention and made me feel cultured and sophisticated.
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52 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Luanne Ollivier TOP 500 REVIEWER on December 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The Art Forger marks B.A. Shapiro's fiction debut.

Now I must admit, I have very little knowledge of the art world. So I honestly wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy this book or not.

What I found fascinating was that Shapiro wove her story around actual historical figures and events. In 1990 the Gardner Museum was robbed of a number of significant art works. They have never been recovered. The works were collected by Isabelle Stewart Gardner - a woman who lived life on her own terms.

Shapiro's narrator and main character is painter Claire Roth. She survived a scandal personally, but the professional fallout has left her 'reproducing' famous art works for a living. When a well known gallery owner approaches her about reproducing a famous work in exchange for a show of her own work, she hesitates - but agrees. The work she'll be copying is one of Degas's - and one stolen from the Gardner. Or is it?

Shapiro's research has been carefully carried out. She describes the atmosphere, the smell, the process of painting with great detail and passion. I did actually learn quite a bit during my read, but at the end did find myself glossing over some of these passages as they seemed to cover ground already discussed. The same process is covered multiple times.

Shapiro uses flashbacks very effectively. In bits and pieces we learn what happened to Claire three years ago and what led to her current situation. As that story unfolds, it seems that history may be repeating itself. Has Claire made the same tragic mistakes yet again?

The third storyline is told in 1880's letters from Isabelle to her niece - her only confidant. The mystery of the current day missing paintings might be found in these missives.
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