Vivienne Gregsby, an art collector's apprentice, is on trial for the murder of her boss at the outset of B.A. Shapiro's eighth novel. Things don't look good for Vivienne, but Shapiro (The Muralist) teases the captivating climax from suspenseful alternating timelines leading to 1928 and the Pennsylvania courtroom.
Bold, duplicitous Vivienne seems an unlikable heroine. At 19, she fled her Brussels home for Paris, adopting a new name and life. She had little choice, since her family disowned her after her dashing fiancé, George, swindled them out of their assets, assuming Vivienne (then Paulien) was his accomplice. Pledging revenge and the reclamation of her name--as well as the paintings her family was forced to sell--Vivienne's knowledge of modern art emboldens her to apply for a job as assistant to American art collector Edwin Bradley. With Edwin, she has entrée into Paris society and is soon rubbing elbows with Gertrude Stein, Henri Matisse and more. Edwin's reliance on Vivienne as his wise and circumspect adviser earns her trips to Philadelphia, where she soon settles, curating the collection filling his private museum. Meanwhile George lurks, with an insatiable desire for Vivienne and nefarious schemes to defraud others as he did her family.
Did George lure Vivienne into his web of deceit, leading her to the trial? Did she dupe him, and is his downfall imminent? In prose lush with post-impressionist art history, Shapiro's intriguing novel presents a heroine either evil or sympathetic--until the very end. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco