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Originally published Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 6:11 AM

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‘A Nearly Perfect Copy’: seduced into art fraud

Allison Amend’s second novel, “A Nearly Perfect Copy,” charts the ethical thicket two people enter when they agree to collude in selling art forgeries.

The Washington Post

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‘A Nearly Perfect Copy’

by Allison Amend

Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 284 pp., $25.95

The high-stakes trade in fine art provides an atmospheric setting for Allison Amend’s second novel. Her two unhappy protagonists find tempting opportunities to satisfy their thwarted desires in this secretive marketplace, whose business practices Amend convincingly paints as considerably less lovely than the artworks being sold.

Elm Howells is a department head at Tinsley’s, the Manhattan auction house founded by her great-grandfather. Two years ago, her young son was swept away by a tsunami while vacationing in Thailand; Elm remains inconsolable, desperate to have another baby despite the qualms of her charming Irish husband and her middle-aged low fertility.

Gabriel Connois, a Spanish painter living in Paris, is sick of being a starving artist at age 42. Despite his considerable technical skills, he’s uneasily aware that he lacks the personal vision of his ancestor Marcel Connois, a renowned 19th-century painter. Gabriel is ripe for seduction when his glamorous new girlfriend introduces him to her “uncle,” Augustus Klinman, who offers him a lot of money to provide artworks in the style of his famous forebear.

Klinman plays on Gabriel’s resentment of the dealers and collectors who have previously disdained his work. A much-less-plausible plot device pushes Elm to act as Klinman’s go-between in the private sale of works she knows are forgeries. Her motive is to raise money to take advantage of an expensive new technology for getting pregnant.

A well-wrought but oddly bloodless tale, “A Nearly Perfect Copy” is regrettably true to its title: cleverly rendered but lacking the spark of a true original’s inspiration.

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