Works of Art: A Novel
by Ben Chambers
Kieran Publishing

"What sort of lowlife robs an old woman of everything she holds dear? What sort of son allows it to happen?"

Andrew (Andy) Ceraldi is your ordinary citizen, a family man with a cheery disposition, deeply committed to his “Garden Goddess” wife, Peggy, and his thirst for the next story that would blow his literary agent, Chaska, out of the water. Meanwhile, much of Andrew’s family (cousins, sister, etc.) is determined to send his ninety-year-old mother, Henrietta Sage, into assisted living. Holding the power-of-attorney (or at least a copy of it), Ceraldi is pretty much all that separates his mother from assisted living, and this is what sets the stage for the dynamic plot that is about to unfold.

On an otherwise uneventful day, Ceraldi gets a call regarding his mother. While he fears the worst, the news he gets is far more convoluted and perplexing: the bank manager at Cygnet Bank is reaching out to inform Andy that his mother may be part of a massive swindling scam that cons the elderly from huge sums. Undeterred, Andy sets out to connect with his mother and get to the bottom of the nearly thirteen checks written by her to variations of Tanner Williams Cassidy, a self-proclaimed roofer and contractor.

Based on the late author’s real-life experiences after his own mother was swindled, Chambers’ narrative is filled with rich history and backstory about Henrietta Sage’s family, her good-for-nothing nieces, and her fierce determination to keep the last parcel of Sage family land from being sold. The author effortlessly weaves in the background of each character without disrupting the flow of the plot. While there are numerous comical exchanges and scenes of humor between Henrietta and Ceraldi, there is little doubt that the stars of the novel are Ceraldi and Tanner (the swindler) and their respective yet unyielding resolve to outsmart the other.

Ceraldi seemingly captures the team of swindlers red-handed, at least on a recording, but trying to get a sheriff to make it admissible in court presents its own problem. Nevertheless, what the astute Ceraldi recognizes is that, like every conman, Tanner leaves his signature. In this case, it is a three-cent deposit added to the total amount each time. Trying to feed into Tanner’s ego, Ceraldi approaches him from a different angle, attempting to flatter the man who seems to always be several steps ahead of him. As the narrative progresses, the layers of each of the character’s backstories unravel, setting up an electrifying cat-and-mouse chase whose origins lead back to family and the desire to walk in the footsteps of their predecessors.

In the end, what readers are experiencing is, as the title indicates, a work of art—a conman’s mission to give meaning and morality to what he thinks he is meant to be doing and the path laid out for him that he is meant to be walking. Directly juxtaposed with this “art” is a son’s commitment to his mother, for whom assisted living would be nothing short of a prison. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this novel is the refreshing ease with which the plot flows, especially given the massive amount of plot reveals. Nearly every character has far more to him or her than the eye can see, and it is this depth that makes the novel an unstoppable page-turner.

A 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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