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Book Author: B. A. Shapiro

METROPOLIS by B. A. Shapiro: Book Review

There’s something a bit unsettling about a building full of storage units.  It’s almost like a hotel containing objects but no people.  The items inside are no longer needed or wanted, but yet they haven’t been given away, donated, or discarded.  They have some sort of hold on their owners, and often not in a healthy way.

The Metropolis Storage Unit in Cambridge, Massachusetts, isn’t your typical facility.  Rather than box-like storage buildings, which are commonly seen on the side of a highway, this is a high-rise in appearance, with two elevators serving its six floors.  It almost looks like a castle, with its round windows and towers.

Rose, the receptionist, sits at a desk in a space that comprises three units, collecting the monthly rents plus a bit on the side from some of the tenants.  It’s not like she’s stealing from the owner, she rationalizes, it’s more like “thank yous” from those who need a little something extra that the building doesn’t usually provide.

There are two people living illegally in the building.  One is Marta, a student from Venezuela trying to complete her doctorate.  She’s grateful to Rose, but she’s not willing to explain why she needs to live there rather than in an apartment or graduate housing.

The other is Serge, a photographer who barely speaks to Rose, even when he hands her his monthly check plus that little bit extra.  The reason Rose knows he’s a photographer is because she’s let herself into his unit when she’s sure he’s not inside.  That’s strictly forbidden, but Rose isn’t doing anything wrong she tells herself, she’s just curious.

Liddy is renting one unit and wants to rent a second one.  Her current space is filled with toys and games and souvenirs belonging to her twin son and daughter who are currently enrolled in a Swiss boarding school.  Not because Liddy wants her children abroad, but because her husband, the fabulously wealthy and successful W. Garrett Haines III, has decreed it.  He also told her to get rid of all the “childish things,” but she can’t bring herself to do that.  Thus storage, obviously unknown to her husband.

Jason, a once up-and-coming attorney, has his office in the Metropolis.  He had been a partner at a large Boston law firm until he did something illegal but morally defensible.  Embarrassed to tell his family that he was let go, he’s pretending he’s still at the firm while working out of the storage building.

Then there’s an accident in one of the elevators, an accident that will turn the lives of these people upside down.  What will Rose, Serge, Marta, Liddy, and Jason do when their secrets are revealed?

Metropolis will have readers turning page after page, unwilling to wait to find out the end of the story.  B. A. Shapiro has written an enthralling mystery with characters that are only too real in today’s world.

You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE ART FORGER by B. A. Shapiro: Book Review

Living near Boston, over the years I’ve followed the news about the art thefts from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum with great interest.  Earlier this month the FBI announced that it knows the perpetrators of this crime but is unable to locate the thirteen paintings that were stolen in the middle of the night in March, 1990, paintings that are valued at hundreds of millions of dollars.  Strange, but that’s the official line as of now.

In B. A. Shapiro’s thriller, The Art Forger, disgraced artist Claire Roth is approached and asked to make a copy of Edgar Degas’s After the Bath, one of the stolen paintings.  The man who brings Claire the painting, Aidan Markel, is the owner of a prestigious art gallery in Boston.  His plan is to sell the copy that Claire makes to a foreign buyer who has already agreed to purchase it.  Of course, the foreign buyer thinks that what he’s getting is the original, not a twenty-first-century forgery.

Aidan won’t tell Claire how he’s come into possession of the masterpiece, saying only that it’s a win-win situation and that “there are many layers” between the art thieves and the person from whom he received After the Bath.  He tells her that the buyer will be happy, Claire will receive $50,000 for her work, he himself will get his share of the purchase price, and then he will give the original back to the museum.  He never makes clear exactly how this last part will work, but he reassures Claire that there’s no danger for either of them.  And, a huge bonus for Claire, Aidan promises her a one-woman show at his gallery, Markel G.

The reason that Claire is in disgrace in the art world goes back three years before the novel opens.  She was in the midst of a clandestine relationship with her art professor, a well-regarded artist who had been unable to complete a commissioned painting for the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Desperate to help Isaac Cullion overcome his mental block, Claire paints a work in his style as he looks on and protests, but when she’s finished he signs his name to it.  And when the MOMA curator sees the work, she pronounces it his best ever and arranges for it to hang in the museum’s show.  But, as the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished, and Claire is still feeling the repercussions of her action three years later.

B. A. Shapiro has written a thriller that is true to the name of the genre.  Even as we know Claire is making bad choices, we understand her reasons for doing so.  Part professional pride–could she actually produce a painting that would fool the experts as well as the buyer?  Part economic necessity–living in her art studio, her bed a mattress on the floor, her meals consisting mainly of take-out Thai and cold cereal–she’s behind on her student loans, her rent, and payment for the art supplies she needs to complete her current project.  The temptation is too much to resist.

The Art Forger is a terrific, compelling read, and knowing that the heist is still unsolved after all these years adds to the tension of the novel.  The characters are true-to-life, and their morality, or the lack of it, comes straight from today’s headlines.

You can read more about B. A. Shapiro at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.