The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro, author of the bestselling The Art Forger, is an enthralling and gripping historical suspense mystery thriller with life, art and politics of pre-World War II New York City as the setting, with the story shifting back and forth from the past to the present, and the author bringing to life historical characters from the past and imaginatively mingling them with an array of fictional characters. Written in a style only B.A. Shapiro can, with a subject close to her heart as the pivotal theme of the novel, what you have is a mix of factual and fictional events vying for centre-stage as the story unfolds.
The story begins in the present-day with Danielle Abrams, who is the great-niece of Alizee Benoit, trying to solve the mysterious disappearance of her great-aunt over seventy years before. Her family has been clueless, and disinterested, about the whole affair drawing her curiosity. The stoic silence of Danielle’s Holocaust-surviving grandparents shrouded what little might have been known until something happened, lifted the veil and takes her further into the mystery.
Alizee Benoit’s story begins in 1939. She was working as a muralist for WPA project. She was “charismatic, headstrong and talented.” One day, she disappeared into pre-World War II New York City at almost the same time her entire family disappeared into Europe. Just as lost, just as gone, but with no bombs, no concentration camps, no lists of the dead, no explanation. In a sense, The Muralist is a family mystery with a strong narrative as Danielle tries to uncover everything about Alizee. But it is much more than that.
Though Alizee Benoit and Danielle Abrams’ intertwined stories are at the heart of the novel, the author explored various issues of the period, from politics to war to art, and examined the degree of anti-Semitism prevalent in the 1930s and ‘40s with restaurants placing signs barring Jews and blacks. It was a moment in American history when instant communication was still a dream, and in the pages of The Muralist, author B.A. Shapiro deconstructed history, misconceptions and misapprehensions about historical events, and throws new light on them in more ways than one would dare to imagine. Compelling and fascinating, it is a must-read if you loved The Art Forger!