Having worked for many years at an art museum myself, I was very excited about the opportunity to review B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger, which takes readers into both the art world and the art forgery world through a tale inspired by the famous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum robbery. There’s much to admire here, including both the main character, aspiring artist Claire Roth, who makes a Faustian bargain for a shot at fame, and — not unrelated — the novel’s overriding sense of moral consequence. But a central artistic decision kept nagging at me throughout the book, related to both the pleasures and the challenges of building a work of fiction on top of an actual event. Here’s my attempt at a catchy opening for the review:
In March 1990, two men disguised as police officers stole 13 works of art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum — works collectively valued as high as $500 million, the largest art heist in history. More than two decades later, authorities have still failed to produce any solid leads in the case, but pop culture has had fun locating the loot in a number of unlikely places. In May, Stephen Colbert confessed that he’d stolen Vermeer’s The Concert, the most valuable of the missing paintings. And two years ago on “The Simpsons,” Springfield police came across the same painting in the basement of Mr. Burns’s mansion. “Is it a crime to want nice things?” Burns asked.
Now another of the stolen masterworks seems to have turned up in B.A. Shapiro’s first novel, The Art Forger — but that word “seems” functions on a number of levels here.