17. The Art Forger, by B.A. Shapiro. This was a very quick read, and hard to put down. Shapiro mixes fact with fiction as skillfully as her main character Claire mixes paints for her canvases. The book opens with information on the Gardner Museum art heist - which remains the largest unsolved art theft in history. Claire was a child when the art thefts occurred, but today, she has her own problems. Claire makes her living at making copies of masterworks for an online company, cast out by most in the art world after a scandal involving her and her late ex-lover. Then one evening, the owner of a very prominent gallery comes to visit, and he has a proposition. He asks her to use her skills as a reproduction artist to make a copy of a Degas piece. Claire, whose specialty is Degas, is the ideal choice. The twist? She is to make the reproduction from the actual Degas work - one of the pieces stolen during the Gardner heist. In return, Claire is offered a lot of money and the chance to have a solo show at his gallery- and thus emerge from the shadow of the scandal. Claire agrees but begins to wonder about the deal early on - especially when she begins to suspect that the painting she is working from itself might actually be a forgery. Of course, nothing goes quite as planned, and Claire finds herself trying to get behind the mystery of the painting, who might have actually created it and why, and trying to regain her good name. The author goes into a lot of detail on art forgeries and reproductions, which is fascinating and a bit disconcerting. Makes me wonder about her assertion about the number of forgeries that could be hanging on the walls of museums even now, although after seeing a local exhibit on Michelangelo, and the steps used to determine the levels of authenticity for his works, I am thinking Shapiro is probably correct.
18. Guys and Dolls: The Stories of Damon Runyon. This is a different collection of Runyon's short stories from the volume I read earlier (although several stories, such as Dancing Dan's Christmas and Little Miss Marker, are repeated here). I obtained this book primarily for the short story, The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown, which the musical Guys and Dolls is partly based on, the part being the story between Sky Masterson (in the story referred to as The Sky) and mission worker Sarah Brown. The musical largely sticks true to this storyline, although I do like the showdown between Sarah and Sky in the Runyon story a little better; Sarah shows a bit of moxie when she basically beats Sky at his own game. Another interesting detail is the revelation about Sarah's father being a drinker and gambler- thus her passionate hatred for those vices. It adds a layer of interest to the character. Also was interesting that Abernathy really is Sarah's grandfather (I think, but then again the term could have been used as slang. I got the impression at least there was a family relation but there is room for doubt.) Love the humor and word play in these stories. I think another favorite was Palm Beach Santa Claus, which was hilarious. This collection's stories are lighter- only a few are sadder, like The Lily of St. Pierre, Little Miss Marker and Johnny One-Eye.