Barbara Shapiro finds success with her sixth novel

Left: Barbara Shapiro. Above: An illustration from “If I Built a House.”
Left: Barbara Shapiro. Above: An illustration from “If I Built a House.”

Sweet success, at last

For Boston novelist Barbara Shapiro, the sixth time is a charm. After dismal sales for her first five novels, Shapiro’s “The Art Forger” (Algonquin), out in paperback, is a hit. “ ‘The Art Forger’ isn’t only my most successful book, it’s my only successful book,” Shapiro wrote in an e-mail. The New England Independent Booksellers Association, or NEIBA, recently voted it the best novel of 2013 .

The backdrop for the novel is the heist in 1990 of 13 masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. In “Forger,” an art dealer offers to give struggling artist Claire Roth a solo show at his Newbury Street gallery if she’ll copy one of the stolen works, a Degas painting, and keep quiet when he passes it off as an original.


Shapiro, whose home in the South End is not far from where Roth lives in the novel, finds more than a passing resemblance between her life and Roth’s. “Much as I would like to deny this, I can’t,” Shapiro wrote. Both are driven to create art and be known. And Shapiro, like Roth, finds herself wondering, even after succeeding beyond her wildest expectations, if she’s good enough.

Barbara Shapiro became “B.A. Shapiro” for “The Art Forger” in an attempt to make a fresh start in the eyes of buyers for bookstores — who base their orders for an author’s new book on sales of past works — and a fresh start for her career as a more literary writer.

Shapiro’s novel doesn’t try to solve the mystery of the Gardner heist because she didn’t want any break in the case to negate what’s in the book. In fact, sales of the book get a bump every time the theft is in the news. “I’ll never give up hope that the Gardner heist will be solved, but I fear for the artwork,” Shapiro wrote. “Twenty-three years is a long time, and the paintings are very fragile. The fact that after all this time, nothing has surfaced also worries me. But the FBI has a new public awareness campaign to remind people of the crime and what the missing artwork looks like, so maybe that will do it. It worked for Whitey [Bulger].”


The fall will bring a new round of readings for Shapiro, who has done about 100 author events over the past year. Dedham, Woburn, and Somerville HAVE CHOSEN HER BOOK FOR THEIR COMMUNITY READS PROGRAMS. Somerville Reads will host a discussion with Shapiro on Sept. 18 at the public library on Highland Avenue. And she’s been invited to appear at NEIBA’s fall convention IN OCTOBER, along with Nantucket author Nathaniel Philbrick whose “Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution” (Viking) is the NEIBA nonfiction book of the year and Maine author and illustrator Chris Van Dusen whose “If I Built a House” (Dial) is the children’s BOOK winner.

“If I Built a House.”
“If I Built a House.”(Chris Van Dusen)

Coming out

■  “Holy Orders” by Benjamin Black (Holt)

■  “The Daughters of Mars” by Thomas Keneally (Atria)

■  “Tell No Lies” by Gregg Hurwitz (St. Martin’s)

Pick of the Week

Rita Moran of Apple Valley Books in Winthrop, Maine, recommends “Massacre Pond” by Paul Doiron (Minotaur): “Doiron just keeps getting better. In his latest novel, you can smell the sweetness of the Maine woods, feel the dry leaves underfoot, and hear the birds singing at dawn. But the story offers far more than that: Maine characters who might have just walked out of a local diner, issues that are as fresh as the latest headlines, and the kind of suspense that will keep your lights on far into the night.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at