The real deal
Author finds true success
with novel about forged art
By Hope Katz Gibbs
“I’M A COWARDLY writer,” admits Barbara “B. A.”
Shapiro, author of the critically acclaimed best-seller The Art Forger. It’s a twisty tale about the largest unsolved art theft in history: more than a dozen
paintings that were stolen from Boston’s Isabella
Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.
“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,”
explains the author of six novels and
one nonfiction title. “But not me. I
need an outline that allows me to
believe my idea might be transformed
into a successful novel. I need a work-
ing plot. Which is why it takes me so
long to get from the first glimmer of
an idea to a complete manuscript.”
The good news for readers is that
Shapiro fell in love with Isabella
Stewart Gardner back in 1983. True, the heiress
died in 1924, but when two men dressed as police
officers broke into her museum and stole 13 pieces
of art that today are worth more than $500 million,
Shapiro knew she had plenty of juicy details to
But wasn’t the topic too vast and complicated?
Wouldn’t someone else beat her to the publishing
punch? Or, perhaps, the mystery would be solved
before she could finish writing a book about the heist.
B. A. Shapiro
Shapiro’s doubts kept the idea for her literary
thriller tucked in her imagination as she wrote
other books, raised two kids and got a Ph.D. in
sociology. She also spent years teaching creative
writing at Northeastern University.
Then one day, 19 years after
Rembrandt van Rijn’s The Storm on the
Sea of Galilee, Vermeer’s The Concert
and the other artworks had been taken
and remained in hiding, Shapiro had
“I was ruminating on how difficult
life was for anyone in the arts, and feeling more than a bit sorry for myself,
[and] 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? Isabella Stewart Gardner herself?”
Shapiro expanded her cast of characters and
gave each one a temptation their egos couldn’t resist.
The result is a 355-page read that includes a
Faustian bargain for Claire Roth, a talented young
Boston artist who agrees to forge a Degas painting
in exchange for a gallery show. When she begins to
suspect that the Degas in her studio may be the
original stolen during the 1990 robbery, she begins
an investigation that uncovers secrets about the
relationship between Degas and Isabella Gardner.
Thievery, romance, danger and intrigue ensue.
Honestly, this book is impossible to put down.
Who could ask for more?
Shapiro, perhaps, who at 61 struggles with the
mystery of why some authors hit the big time, while
others take decades, if ever, to realize their dreams
of writing a best-seller.
w ei i heir first books. halso also know
“It is bizarre, after all of these years, to have it
happen now—and it is just blowing me away,”
Shapiro tells The Connection from her home office
in Boston. “I have some friends who made it really
early in their careers and then they spend the rest of
the time trying to keep up with their first books.
“Yes, I feel like I ‘deserve’ this success in the
sense that I’ve worked really hard and I think I
wrote a pretty good book. But I also know
many people who have worked just as
hard and have written good—if not
better—books, and they aren’t getting
this gift. I chalk it up to the whims of
fate, and a big chunk of luck.”
Tablet or smartphone? Scan or click the book’s cover to watch a video about the book. Scan or click here to enter the giveaway in our digital newsstand and online editions. (See page 5.)
IN MARCH OF this year I
heard a story on NPR about
how FBI agents think they
know who’s behind the
Isabella Stewart Gardner
Museum art heist in 1990—
although at press time they
still haven’t divulged any
names. While the theft is
fascinating on its own, I
love that B. A. Shapiro used
that mystery as a springboard for the captivating
story she tells in this
month’s Book Buyer’s Pick,
The Art Forger.
Claire Roth, a young
artist, makes a deal to copy
a famous work of art—one
stolen from the Gardner’s
collection—in exchange for
a one-woman show at a
prestigious art gallery.
Shapiro’s examination of
blind ambition is a fresh
look at what any of us
would do to get what we
most want out of life.
For more book picks,
see page 75.
Signed book giveaway
COSTCO HAS 50 SIGNED COPIES of B. A. Shapiro’s
The Art Forger to give away. To enter, go to
Costco.com, search for “JunBookPick” and follow
the instructions. Or print your name, address and
daytime phone number on a postcard or letter and
send it to: B. A. Shapiro, The Costco Connection,
P.O. Box 34088, Seattle, WA 98124-1088.
NO PURCHASE, PAYMENT OR OPT-IN OF ANY KIND IS
NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN THIS SWEEPSTAKES.
Purchase will not improve odds of winning. S weepstakes is sponsored by
Algonquin Books, P. O. Box 2225, Chapel Hill, NC 27515. Open to legal
residents of the U.S. (except Puerto Rico) who are age 18 or older at the time
of entry. One entry per household. Entries must be received by July 1, 2013.
Winners will be randomly selected and noti;ed by mail on or before August
1, 2013. The value of the prize is $14.95. Void where prohibited. Winners are
responsible for all applicable federal, state and local taxes. Odds of winning
depend on the number of eligible entries received. Employees of Costco or
Algonquin and their families are not eligible.
Hope Katz Gibbs lives in northern
Virginia with her husband, illustrator
JUNE 2013 ;e Costco Connection 73
Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco book buyer