four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
35-July-Aug-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-The Forgery of VenusThe Forgery of Venus follows on the heels of Michael Gruber’s best-selling The Book of Air and Shadows ( 4 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2007), about an undiscovered Shakespeare manuscript. With his latest effort, Gruber, a marine scientist by training and art buff by choice, solidifies his reputation as one of the premier writers in the literary-thriller genre.

The Story: Chaz Wilmot, Jr., a talented but mercurial painter, grows up resenting his famous father, one of the country’s most celebrated artists. Chaz rejects the contemporary art world and instead works as a commercial artist. Taking a commission to restore a Tiepolo Venetian palace fresco, he discovers that a new drug meant to heighten creativity works even better than its creators had hoped. When a previously unknown painting by the renowned Spanish artist Velázquez appears on the market and is poised to fetch hundreds of millions, Chaz approaches an old college buddy with a cryptic request. The recollections that Chaz leave behind on a CD—the novel is written, primarily, as a transcription of Chaz’s own words—raise as many questions as they answer. Is the Velázquez real—or a masterful forgery? Who is the art dealer using Chaz’s talents for his own nefarious ends?
William Morrow. 336 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0060874481

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Chaz’s creativity is in high gear, and so are his hallucinations, which seem increasingly real, as though he has somehow slipped through time, back to the 17th century, and actually become the Spanish artist Velázquez." Diane White

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Gruber draws some neat parallels between [his protagonist’s] realization that ‘reality seems to be more flexible than I imagined,’ and the definition of art, which he positions as similarly flexible. The author owns his subject matter and packs it with well-researched details, making this tale of madness and art forgery a genuine work of his own." Allecia Vermillion

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Need a little intellectual gloss to dress up this summer’s beach reading? Lay hands on The Forgery of Venus, the latest by novelist Michael Gruber, a leading light in the ‘literary thriller’ subgenre." Chris Tucker

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The Forgery of Venus … is a tour de force combination of suspense and characterization, as well as a primer on the world of art and art forgery. The polymathic Seattle-based author … has set a standard for brainy, intricate mysteries that juggle philosophical, cultural and even religious issues." Mary Ann Gwinn

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Forgery’s pace is more meditative [than The Book of Air and Shadows], but the book retains the power from the first chapter to keep readers desperate for the suspenseful, addictive fix of every succeeding one. … It’s difficult to ferret out whether friendships, family ties and business deals are what they appear to be." Carol Memmott

Entertainment Weekly 2 of 5 Stars
"Unfortunately, Chaz is such a self-obsessed blowhard you just don’t care. Michael Gruber spends so much time dropping the names of painters and Italian techniques in a run of art-geek technobabble that he buries his terrific conceit—a drug that makes Chaz think he’s reliving the life of Diego Velázquez." Marc Bernardin

Critical Summary

Although critics still make the inevitable and easy comparisons to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, any time a book comes out in the burgeoning genre of the "literary thriller," Gruber—so critics might argue with good cause—delivers a more compelling (or, at the least, a more imaginative) story. With The Forgery of Venus, Gruber hits his stride, combining psychological intrigue with an expert’s knowledge of art and art history (Gruber’s fascination with the subject dates back to his early 20s and an artist’s loft in SoHo). Only one critic cited an overblown narrative. Overall, Forgery is a smart, provocative, entertaining book that will leave readers sympathizing with his protagonist and wanting more.