The Collector’s Apprentice

Written by B.A. Shapiro
Review by Jackie Drohan

This compelling novel encompasses romance, betrayal, fraud, and manipulation in the world of fine art during the early 20th century. The novel’s primary character, Paulien Mertens, was raised by a wealthy loving family in Brussels but becomes the victim of a con artist known to her as George Everard. Her family is ruined, and their art collection, the pride of her father, taken and sold. Believed an accomplice, Paulien is sent away to Paris with 200 francs in her pocket. With the benefit of her education and love of fine art, she takes on a new identity as Vivienne Gregsby, and struggles to re-invent herself in the Parisian art industry and to destroy George, her family’s antagonist.

Vivienne soon becomes the apprentice of an American art lover, Dr. Edwin Bradley, an older married man wealthy enough to purchase the finest art for display in the United States. He has powerful enemies and a wife with a hatred for Vivienne. Edwin falls in love with Vivienne, unaware of her past.

Her relationship with Edwin brings Vivienne wider exposure, including a brief fascinating affair with Henri Matisse, a final encounter with George and an unexpected accusation of murder. The plot is full of twists without ever seeming convoluted and shifts time and perspective effortlessly. The characters are multi-dimensional and highly relatable. The style is crisp and readable, and in all, the book is difficult to put down. Recommended reading.