The Collector’s Apprentice

By B.A. Shapiro

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 344 pp. $27.95.

Reviewed by Maureen McCarthy

Art and intrigue make scheming bedfellows in the latest novel by B.A. Shapiro, master of the “historical art thriller.” This time, she takes on the 1920s art world as post-impressionism is taking hold. The shape-shifting cubists and color-crazed fauvists are captivating Paris, and Gertrude Stein presides over soirees with Picasso and Matisse.

Into this world steps Vivienne Gregsby, a young woman reeling from a disastrous engagement to a con man who cost her family their fortune and art collection. She appears to catch a break when American tycoon Edwin Bradley hires her to help him assemble an art collection for a museum in Philadelphia. Then her ex-fiancé con artist reappears. George — or is it Benjamin, or Ashton, or Ivan? — wants her back for his next escapade. She wants her family’s collection back — and revenge. Their sparring takes a darker turn when Vivienne’s boss dies in suspicious circumstances.

Once again, Shapiro stitches her suspense into real life, with Bradley and Vivienne resembling the mercurial Philadelphia art collector Albert C. Barnes and his assistant Violette de Mazia. The plot requires readers to suspend disbelief in key places, but the payoff is a fast-moving, multifaceted battle of wits. Art lovers will savor Shapiro’s sensual descriptions of paintings that bring now-legendary masterpieces to life.

This review originally appeared in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune.