It’s quite an amazing thing to be an Edgar Best Novel nominee for your second book! But that’s the case for Barbara Bourland and her suspenseful novel, Fake Like Me. It’s pretty unusual. It’s not a cozy whodunit, crime caper, police procedural, jeopardy-driven suspense novel, or one of the other typical mysteries. Fake Like Me is more of a what-really-happened with a big surprise.
Fake sets up an interesting backstory: it’s the mid-90’s, and a talented and struggling young female artist from the wrong side of the tracks yearns for other artists’ acceptance, particularly from the glittering “Pine City” art collective centered around Carey Logan. Jumping to today, this unnamed protagonist is now 34 and on the cusp of something big – a private gallery show that could make her future – when her studio/apartment burns to the ground, destroying everything. She has three months to recreate all seven of her works in total secrecy, but has little money, no supplies and no space to do it in. Through determined networking, she wrangles an invite to… wait for it… Pine City.
But the Pine City of today features just four artists, not five, as the luminous but conflicted Carey Logan died in 2008, a suicide by drowning. And our protagonist – let’s call her P, because she is never named in Fake Like Me – moves in to Carey’s studio. P physically resembles Carey, is inspired by her, emulates her artistic drive, is drawn to her former lover, and is relentlessly curious about her. And slowly, slowly, she learns the truth about Carey Logan. I guarantee you will not see it coming.
Here are three things Bourland does very well: First, all the art stuff. I was drawn in to P’s reflections on art, artists, and the art market. Plus, the sections on P’s creative process were fun and compelling. Accurate when it comes to technique? I have no idea, but it worked for me.
Second, the concept. I don’t want spoil it for those who haven’t read it, but the idea at the heart of Fake Like Me is fresh and well-executed.
Third, the voice. Fake Like Me is written in first person from P’s perspective. P is a singular person with a strong point of view and her narration is authentic and individual.
Things not so good: Lots of coincidences in this book. Young P meets Carey and her posse. Younger P has fancy-schmancy teenage friend; friend grows up to be rich, married to an art dealer, and lives near Pine City. P looks like Carey. P seeks studio space, only one person helps her and it’s Pine City. P gets Carey’s studio and stumbles across clues. Other clues are strewn throughout. I was not sure about the necessity of P’s video/recreation of Carey’s suicide. And finally, while P is a fully realized character, the other main characters are pretty sketched-in.
Summing up, definitely a book I would recommend, and Bourland is an author I would read again; I expect to go dig up her first book when this Edgar review process is over. Comparing to the two previous novels reviewed for ranking purposes, Fake Like Me clearly does not take the top spot, but I’m a bit conflicted about whether it’s #2 or #3. From a plot perspective, it’s more complex than The River, and full props for the surprise with no cheating. Characterwise, The River has the edge for sure. And writing quality, again The River. Although I continue to waffle back and forth, I have to give it to The River. I suspect that this is going to make it ranking difficult for the next two books!
Literary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best Novel