Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm, review by Shirley Wells
Most femme fatales are given that moniker by their male companions or victims. But in Rebecca Scherm's psychological thriller Unbecoming, Grace earns this title all on her own.
Unwanted child, devoted girlfriend, surrogate daughter, secret newlywed, NYU art history student, unfaithful wife, art appraiser protege, art heist instigator, art scholar in Prague, restoration and repair expert, jewel thief...LIAR. All these descriptions fit Grace, who grows up in small-town Tennessee but ends up evading the law as she travels around Europe.
Grace's childhood is spent being passed from one family member to another. When she is nine-years-old, her parents finally legitimize their on-and-off again relationship by marrying, taking custody of Grace, and moving to Garland, Tennessee, where their attention is quickly consumed by the birth of twins. Grace now has the safety and family she has longed for, but she is still an outsider...even in her own home. Because of this, she ingratiates her way into Riley Graham's family, using her charm as both a wedge and a weapon. But as the author herself explains, “...my anti-heroine is a charming criminal who is never the least bit charmed by herself...she is not all that 'likable.'” And because charm can't survive intimacy, Grace keeps everyone around her at an emotional arm's length...until she lets one person in and that proves to be her undoing.
Just as Grace charmed her way into the Graham family, she has also infiltrated the international art fraud scene, working out of a grubby art restoration and repair shop outside Paris. Here she plays a waiting game, knowing that one—or both—of the young men she has betrayed will come looking for her once they are paroled. Grace masterminded the robbery of an historic estate back home in Tennessee, but the young men who were her partners in the burglary are the ones who went to jail. Grace escaped with a valuable painting and is living under an assumed name and identity, knowing that she will eventually have to answer for her past crimes yet unable to resist the allure of creating fake objects d’art. Ironically, the most authentic thing about Grace is her ability to fake her way through life.
With echoes of Hitchcock's “To Catch a Thief,” the suspense of Unbecoming lies in what you DO know, not what you don't. Scherm tells us at the outset that Grace is a liar, and you should not forget that. This is an intricately-plotted and psychologically nuanced heist novel filled with suspense and changing identities.