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From Illinois to Paris - A Life of Lies and Deception in the Art World

The Talented Miss Farwell

By: Emily Gray Tedrowe

Guys, this story is a real doozy. It will have your heart-beating the entire time you’re reading. Lies, deception, fraud, and theft are all at the heart of this week’s highly entertaining novel, The Talented Miss Farwell, by Emily Gray Tedrowe, coming out tomorrow.

I was fortunate enough to receive an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book and read it last spring during the dark dreary days of the Covid quarantine. After finishing the book, I read some of the reviews and agree with the comparison to the movie Catch Me If You Can. The entire time I was reading this novel I wondered how Becky Farwell, the novel’s main character, could possibly get away with an art scam like no other. This is an enormous sting that spans over 20 years, travels over several states and continents, and over the course of it all Becky, or Reba as she is known in the art world, manages to embezzle over $50 million from the comfort of her small town of Pierson, Illinois.

The author, Emily Gray Tedrowe, says that this amazing story is loosely based on a true story. Becky Farwell has always been a whiz at numbers. When her dad’s farm supply business starts failing, Becky finds a way to save it and gets it back on track. She never goes to college because she is too busy helping her dad, but after he dies she is able to get a job working in the Controller’s Office for the town government in her small town of Pierson, Illinois. She leads an otherwise uneventful life until one day she stumbles upon a painting that moves her and decides that she would like to buy it. After stumbling upon a surplus in the town budget, she rewards herself with the purchase of the painting. And so, the life of dealing and collecting art begins for Becky Farwell.

Becky rents herself an apartment in the high-end area of Chicago just to display the art she has purchased, and to host art parties with other collectors in the elite world. Her plan is to buy the art, turn it around in a few months or years, make a profit, and pay the town back. It all seems to go well until the art world crashes and she finds herself in a position where she can’t sell anything and can’t pay back the money she owes.

Did Becky actually like the art? Or did she look at it only as an investment? Maybe this is why I failed on Wall Street; the buying and selling of things that I don’t really care for has no interest to me. But Becky was a numbers gal and she was fixated in turning a small amount of money into never-ending wealth.

And she was really good at it. By day, Becky was a homely town employee, who impressed everyone with her mathematical and accounting ability and by night she became Reba, a couture wearing sophisticated art collector, who jet-setted around the world to art auctions in order to buy hard to get priceless art.

Through it all, I didn’t hate Becky. I was actually sympathetic towards her. I wanted her to get caught, because of the years of deceit that she pulled off while slowly bankrupting her small town. But I didn’t wish her ill. Becky is a sympathetic antagonist. She really wanted to pay back what she owed and wanted to live an honest life and be a good person. Becky Farwell did not see herself as a deceitful or dishonest person. She thought that she was trying to make a living, just like anyone else. She continually helped those she loved by paying for things they couldn’t afford and buying them lavish gifts, but she got sloppy and her life eventually caught up with her. The question is, did she do it for the thrill or did she truly love the art? Did she see the beauty in the things she purchased? For twenty years Becky Farwell led a double life, something that had to have been so exhausting for her to carry on.

After reading this novel, you may stop to wonder how often this kind of deception occurs in small-town government. I’ll leave you to ponder this question. In the meantime, order this book today, you will not be disappointed! In light of all that is wrong in the world, it will make you, if only for a little while, forget everything else that is going on.

The Talented Mrs. Farwell

By: Emily Gray Tedrowe

Publication Date: September 29, 2020

Custom House


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