Catch Me If You Can meets Patricia Highsmith in this “stylish” (New York Times Book Review) page-turner of greed and obsession, survival and self-invention that is a piercing character study of one unforgettable female con artist.
At the end of the 1990s, with the art market finally recovered from its disastrous collapse, Miss Rebecca Farwell has made a killing at Christie’s in New York City, selling a portion of her extraordinary art collection for a rumored 900 percent profit. Dressed in couture YSL, drinking the finest champagne at trendy Balthazar, Reba, as she’s known, is the picture of a wealthy art collector. To some, the elusive Miss Farwell is a shark with outstanding business acumen. To others, she’s a heartless capitalist whose only interest in art is how much she can make.
But a thousand miles from the Big Apple, in the small town of Pierson, Illinois, Miss Farwell is someone else entirely—a quiet single woman known as Becky who still lives in her family’s farmhouse, wears sensible shoes, and works tirelessly as the town’s treasurer and controller.
No one understands the ins and outs of Pierson’s accounts better than Becky; she’s the last one in the office every night, crunching the numbers. Somehow, her neighbors marvel, she always finds a way to get the struggling town just a little more money. What Pierson doesn’t see—and can never discover—is that much of that money is shifted into a separate account that she controls, “borrowed” funds used to finance her art habit. Though she quietly repays Pierson when she can, the business of art is cutthroat and unpredictable.
But as Reba Farwell’s deals get bigger and bigger, Becky Farwell’s debt to Pierson spirals out of control. How long can the talented Miss Farwell continue to pull off her double life?
Tedrowe's zany, perfectly executed latest (after Commuters) follows Becky Farwell, a comptroller in Pierson, Ill., who uses the small town's budget to fund her double life as a renowned New York City art collector and dealer named Reba Farwell. Becky has always had a head for numbers and problem solving, but remains tethered to Pierson by her hapless dad and his farm-equipment business. Though she knows nothing about art and never attended college, Becky is drawn to a painting in a Champaign-Urbana gallery. After coming across a surplus of town funds, Becky uses the money to purchase the painting, setting off a decades-long scheme of borrowing more and more from the town coffers to procure art with the intent to resell at a profit to benefit Pierson but trouble hits when she borrows more than she returns to fuel her habit of bidding for coveted works. Becky's relationship with the art world gets off to a rough start, but she manages to hit the big-time with the help of mentor Mac Palliser, who both nurtures her collecting habit and betrays her. Tedrowe does a spectacular job of demonstrating the mindset of a character who justifies her criminal activity while believing she's ultimately good ("Becky breathed a tight little prayer of gratitude, yet again, that she hadn't been caught. If only she could pay it back, that stupid $542"), as well as making the process of rationalization credible. The unusual plot and Tedrowe's spirited execution of it make this one sing.