Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Book Review: "The Forgery of Venus"

Michael Gruber's second novel in two years (after 2007's The Book of Air and Shadows) is The Forgery of Venus, forthcoming from William Morrow. Like its predecessor, this one fits squarely into the literary thriller genre, although its plot focus is the art world rather than rare books. Also like Air and Shadows, this one kept me guessing, mainly because it's difficult to tell from first to last what's real and what's not.

Using a 21st-century version of a classic literary framing device, Gruber's story is told in the form of digital audio files which artist Charles P. Wilmot Jr. (aka Chaz) passes off to a friend after drunkenly informing him that he's responsible for painting a newly-discovered work by Diego Velázquez. The main portion of the novel consists of the narration in the files, revealing Chaz's tale of a "creativity drug" trial which takes a bizarrely supernatural turn and a descent into the glamorous but dangerous underworld of European art forgery.

Nice use of art history, psychological suspense and imagination. Interesting characters (even if some seemed a bit flat) and a plot that held my attention and made me want to know what the heck was going on. Recommended without reservation.

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