The best-selling author of The Art Forger and The Muralist returns to the art world in a new novel about the heroes and villains of early 20th-century collecting. In 1922 Paris, Belgian Paulien Mertens reinvents herself as Vivienne Gregsby after a confidence scheme destroys her family's wealth and respect. Vivienne finds employment with Edwin Bradley, a wealthy U.S. collector who shares her appreciation for postimpressionist works. Vivienne attempts to keep her married employer at arm's length while encouraging his patronage of the artists they both admire. Edwin insists on keeping his vast holdings private. Vivienne disagrees and plans to take over the collection and share it with the public. Her ideas turn dangerous and her motivations become suspect when the con man who ruined Paulien returns to ensnare Vivienne. VERDICT Shapiro once again successfully combines the work of real artists and the analysis of art movements with a cast of dramatic characters, both fictional and not. Her latest is an absorbing read where what is right and wrong constantly shift. An excellent recommendation for fans of historical fiction and art novels. [See Prepub Alert, 4/9/18.]—Catherine Lantz, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago Lib.
Shapiro (The Muralist and The Art Forger) delivers a clever and complex tale of art fraud, theft, scandal, murder, and revenge. Nineteen-year-old Paulien Mertens is alone and on the run in Paris in 1922, disowned by her Belgian family and hunted by the police, falsely accused of participating with George, her con artist fiancé, in a financial scam that ruined her father. She creates a new identity as art expert Vivienne Gregsby, landing a job working for wealthy Philadelphia art collector Edwin Bradley as a translator and secretary for his buying trips. In Paris, she becomes friends with Gertrude Stein and with Henri Matisse’s lover. All the while, she vows to prove her innocence and restore her father’s wealth, which she plans to do by obtaining possession of Bradley’s art collection, either by marrying him, becoming his heir, or staging a robbery. Vivienne has learned much about the art of the con from George, but when Bradley is suddenly murdered, derailing Vivienne’s plans and landing her in jail, she’ll need all her skills to set things right. Shapiro’s portrayal of the 1920s art scene in Paris and Philadelphia is vibrant, and is populated by figures like Alice B. Toklas and Thornton Wilder; readers will be swept away by this thoroughly rewarding novel. (Oct.)
Shapiro delivers a clever and complex tale of art fraud, theft, scandal, murder, and revenge. [Her] portrayal of the 1920s art scene in Paris and Philadelphia is vibrant, and is populated by figures like Alice B. Toklas and Thornton Wilder; readers will be swept away by this thoroughly rewarding novel.”—Publishers Weekly “B.A. Shapiro is back with a platinum potion of art, love, and scandal, set against the big backdrop of Paris between the wars. If you can pu The Collector’s Apprentice down, you’re made of stronger stuff than I am. I read it in one sumptuous sitting. This is a big story, from a big talent.” —Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean “Dazzling and seductive, The Collector’s Apprentice is a tour de force—an exhilarating tale of shifting identities, desire, and intrigue set between 1920s Paris and Philadelphia. Shapiro is a master at melding historical and fictional characters to bring the past alive on the page, and in The Collector’s Apprentice she has forged an exquisite, multilayered story that maps the cogent and singular fire of a young woman’s ambition and the risks she will take for the sake of art.” —Dawn Tripp, bestselling author of Georgia “I was engrossed in every twist and turn in this compulsively captivating page-turner, all the way until its astonishing denouement. Shapiro has done it again!”—Thrity Umrigar, bestselling author of The Space Between Us
A woman with a shameful past, now in search of revenge and her family's forgiveness, finds herself assisting an irascible patron of the arts who is building one of the world's great private art collections. But will his paintings ever be hers?
Inspired by the story of Philadelphia's famed Barnes Foundation but fictionalized with a sizeable swirl of sensationalism, Shapiro's (The Muralist, 2015, etc.) latest art-world novel spans three timelines involving Belgian Paulien Mertens, who grew up in a home graced by a collection of valuable art, including seven modern works by groundbreaking postimpressionists including Cézanne and Matisse. As the novel opens in Paris in 1922, Paulien, aged 19, has been banished from her home and family, which has been bankrupted in a Ponzi scheme launched by her fiancé, George Everard. Flashing back periodically to 1920, the novel shows how innocent Paulien fell into George's trap; flashing forward to 1928, it reveals her reincarnated as Vivienne Gregsby, on trial for the murder of Dr. Edwin Bradley, a rich American chemist who was amassing a vast collection of postimpressionist art, including those seven Mertens paintings which Paulien dreams of restoring to her father. The central 1922 thread traces Paulien's rebirth as Vivenne, her developing involvement with Bradley, and her move to the U.S. and yearning to inherit his collection herself. But whether flirting—and sleeping—with Matisse, palling around with Gertrude Stein, reuniting dubiously with George, or plotting in secret against Bradley, Paulien is a character short on both conviction and charm. And as the tale enters a late, repetitive spiral of machinations, a credulity-stretching mood intensifies.
Less might have been more in this increasingly convoluted fusion of history and fantasy centered on an ambiguous central figure.