No one does an art thriller quite like B.A. Shapiro, and with such as novels The Art Forger and The Muralist, she’s carved out quite the niche by blinding literary thrills with questions of authenticity, value, museum politics and the inner workings of various historical art scenes.
Shapiro’s next novel, Metropolis, arrives this spring from Algonquin Books, and BookPage is delighted to reveal its cover and an exclusive excerpt!
First, read a bit about Metropolis in the official synopsis from Algonquin:
This masterful novel of psychological suspense from the New York Times bestselling author of The Art Forger follows a cast of unforgettable characters whose lives intersect when a harrowing accident occurs at the Metropolis Storage Warehouse in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
But was it really an accident? Was it suicide? A murder? Six mysterious characters who rent units in, or are connected to, the self-storage facility must now reevaluate their lives. We meet Serge, an unstable but brilliant street photographer who lives in his unit, which overflows with thousands of undeveloped pictures; Zach, the building’s owner, who develops Serge’s photos as he searches for clues to the accident; Marta, an undocumented immigrant who is finishing her dissertation and hiding from ICE; Liddy, an abused wife and mother, who re-creates her children’s bedroom in her unit; Jason, who has left his corporate firm and now practices law from his storage unit; and Rose, the office manager, who takes kickbacks to let renters live in the building and has her own complicated family history.
The characters have a variety of backgrounds: They are different races; they practice different religions; they’re young and they’re not so young; they are rich, poor, and somewhere in the middle. As they dip in and out of one another’s lives, fight circumstances that are within and also beyond their control, and try to discover the details of the accident, Shapiro both dismantles the myth of the American dream and builds tension to an exciting climax.
Metropolis hits bookstores and libraries on May 17, 2022. While you wait, we’re delighted to reveal the cover from designer Sara Wood and art director Christopher Moisan. Plus, an exclusive excerpt after the jump!
BOSTONGLOBE.COM, JANUARY 7, 2018. Cambridge, MA—Rescue workers were dispatched to the Metropolis Storage Warehouse at Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street in response to a 911 call at 11:15 this evening. At least one person was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital with critical injuries after a fall down an elevator shaft. Details are limited, and neither police nor hospital officials identified the victim. Questions were raised about what people were doing at the self-storage facility at that hour, and police are investigating other violations concerning the building. This is a developing story. It will be updated.
It’s Rose’s fault. It’s Aetna’s fault. It’s Otis Elevator’s fault. All of the above and none of the above. Zach Davidson hovers at the edge of the crowd, but at six two it’s tough to blend into the background. The auctioneer doesn’t know Zach is the recipient of the money from the forthcoming sales, and he wants to keep it that way, although he doesn’t know why this matters. He isn’t even sure why he’s come, unless as some perverse form of self-flagellation.
“Most of you know the rules,” the auctioneer begins in her booming voice, “but I’m going to go over them quickly. Due to foreclosure of the building, the contents of twenty-two abandoned storage units are up for sale. The minimum bid is one hundred dollars. Cash only. I’ll open the door to each unit, and you’ll have five minutes to see what’s inside, and then I’ll start the auction. You may not cross the threshold. You may not touch anything. You may not ask me any questions, because I don’t have any answers. You take it all or you leave it all. Then we move on to the next unit. Is this clear?”
There’s a murmur of acceptance, which echoes off the concrete walls and floor, the steel-reinforced ceiling. They’re standing outside Rose’s old office, the woman Zach shouldn’t have relied on. Every direction he looks pisses him off. Rose’s empty desk, the dim bulbs, the peeling paint. He turns his back on the yellow police tape stretched across the elevator.
It’s been almost four months since it happened, and still no one knows for sure if it was an accident, a suicide attempt, or a murder attempt. Could be any of them, but it doesn’t make all that much difference. He’s screwed any which way. Damn elevator. Damn Rose. Damn hard luck.
He follows the auctioneer as she marches down a corridor lined with heavy metal doors, each imprinted with a round medallion containing a large M intertwined with a smaller S and W. Metropolis Storage Warehouse. One hundred and twenty-three years old. Six stories high. Ninety feet wide. Four hundred and eighty feet long. Almost four hundred storage units of various sizes and shapes; some even have windows. Zach knows it well.
The potential bidders are a mixed bunch. Two men in ratty clothes smell as if they’ve been sleeping on the street, which they probably have. Another three look like lawyers or real estate developers, and there’s a foursome of gray-hairs who appear to have just stepped off the golf course. A gaggle of middle-aged women in running shoes sends stern glances at a girl clutching a pen and a pad of paper, who seems far too young to be the mother of the children she’s yelling at. Male, female, tall, short, fat, slim, white, Black, brown, rich, poor, clever, or not so clever. Like the inner recesses of Metropolis itself, a diverse assemblage that stands in contrast to the archipelago of cultural and economic neighborhoods Boston has become.
Zach has owned Metropolis for ten years, bought at a ridiculously low price in a quasi-legal deal that looked to be the way out of the consequences of his bad choices. Although it still belongs to him, however temporarily, he has no idea what’s behind any of the doors. The building had a well-deserved shady reputation when he purchased it, and he concluded he was better off not knowing what people were storing in their units. In retrospect, a little prying might have averted this mess.
The auctioneer, a beefy woman with biceps twice the size of Zach’s, takes a key from her backpack and dramatically twists it into the lock. Then she slides the ten-foot-wide fireproof door along its track on the floor to reveal a murky room, lumpy with shadowy objects. She reaches inside and flips on the light.
“Take it all! Leave it all!” she cries. “Five minutes!”
Revealed by naked light bulbs hanging from the eleven-foot ceiling, #114 is decidedly dull. An old refrigerator, an electric stove, a bunch of mismatched chairs, a couple of mattresses, clothes overflowing from open cartons scattered all over the floor. There are at least two dozen sealed boxes lined up against the far wall and a four-foot pile of empty picture frames ready to topple. Everything is coated with what appears to be decades of dust. Zach groans inwardly. He needs every cent he can squeeze out of this auction, and no one’s going to bid on any of this junk.
But he’s wrong. After the auctioneer starts rippling her tongue in an impenetrable torrent of words, people start raising their hands. When the contents go for $850, Zach is flabbergasted. The other units surely contain more impressive stuff than this and should generate even higher bids.
Some do, some don’t, and two are completely empty.
“Take it all! Leave it all! Five minutes!”
When the auctioneer unlocks the door of #357, there’s a collective gasp. The interior looks like a stage waiting for the evening performance to commence: a complete upscale office suite, including a desk, bookshelves, and a small conference table surrounded by four chairs. Bizarre. It goes for $3,500.
On the fifth floor is a tiny and perfectly immaculate unit: a neatly made single bed, an intricately carved rolltop desk, a chair, a small bureau. Nothing else. One thousand dollars. In #454, there’s another bizarre tableau. Creepy, actually. It appears to belong to a couple of teenagers. Two desks piled with books and trophies, walls covered with movie posters, and corkboards adorned with invitations and photos and newspaper clippings. Did they come here to study? To hide? Zach stretches his neck in as far as he can without the auctioneer cutting it off.
She almost does. “Step back, sir!” she yells, her voice stiletto-sharp. “This minute!” Everyone looks at him as if he’s committed a heinous crime. “Take it all! Leave it all! Five minutes!”
Annoyed, he does as she orders, but he wants to see more, surprised to find himself interested in the lives lived here. This is something he’d never considered before, or to be more correct, he had thought about it, but only as a means to get the bad guys out of the building and clean up his own act. Now the questions surge. Who were these people? Why these particular items? And, most intriguing of all, why did they leave so much behind?
Unit 421 is another stage, but this one is freakish in its attention to detail. It’s a double unit with two round windows, and it looks like an upscale studio apartment, perhaps a pied-à-terre. Against one wall, a queen-size bed is covered by a rumpled silk bedspread and an unreasonable number of pillows. A nightstand holding a lamp and a clock sits to its right side; a large abstract painting is centered over the headboard. At the other end of the unit is an overstuffed reading chair, a writing desk, and a sectional couch, also with too many pillows, facing a large-screen television. In the corner, there’s a small table, two chairs, and a compact kitchen featuring cabinets, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a fancy hot plate.
“Take it all! Leave it all! Five minutes!”
This time there’s no doubt in Zach’s mind to whom the unit belongs, or rather, to whom it had belonged. Liddy Haines. He closes his eyes and presses his forefinger to the bridge of his nose in an attempt to make the horrific image go away, which it does not. Six thousand dollars.
Unit 514 was apparently used as a darkroom, and from the looks of it, also as a bedroom. He stares at the sheets pooling at the edge of a cot, at the dirty clothes heaped on the floor. He’s seen three beds in three different units over the last hour, and he clenches his fists to contain his anger. If Rose didn’t know people were living here, she should have. It was a lawsuit waiting to happen—even if it wasn’t the lawsuit now upending his life. An irony he’d appreciate more if he weren’t so damn furious.
In contrast to Liddy Haines’s unit, there’s no expensive furniture here, but there is a lot of high-quality photographic equipment. A long table edges the south side of the room, overflowing with trays, chemicals, jugs, paper, an enlarger, and an assortment of spools, filters, thermometers, and timers. A clothesline with pins attached stretches over the jumble, and there are at least a dozen five-gallon Poland Spring containers, most of them full, along with another dozen warehouse-size cartons of energy bars.
A Rolleiflex camera is perched atop a stack of cartons, its well-worn leather strap dangling. Zach recognizes it because of the nature photography he’s been doing lately, his current obsession. Highpointing, climbing the highest peak in every state, was his last one, and that’s what got him into taking landscape pictures in the first place. But his interest in mountaineering has been waning—thirty-two states is more than enough—as his new interest in photography has waxed. He’s usually only good for one obsession at a time, dropping the previous one when another grabs his fancy. He’s an all-in or all-out kind of guy.
The Rolleiflex is a twin-lens reflex, medium format, which hardly anyone uses anymore. But if you know what you’re doing, it takes remarkable photos. Zach rented one when he was at Bryce last year, and the first time he looked down into the viewfinder—which is at waist, rather than eye, level—he was blown away.
The vastness of the mountains and the big sky in front of him were perfectly reflected through the lens, without the tunnel vision effect of a standard camera. When he returned to Boston, he kept it a few extra days and experimented with street photography. The cool part is that because you’re looking down rather than directly at your subject, no one is aware they’re being photographed. Vivian Maier, arguably one of the greatest street photographers ever, used a Rolleiflex.
Zach leans into the unit as far as the Nazi will allow, searching for pictures. There are a few lying about, but it’s difficult to see them from the hallway. The ones he can see are all square rather than rectangular, a feature of the Rolleiflex. He tilts his head and squints at a photo on the end of the table closest to him: a striking black-and-white with afternoon sunlight cutting a diagonal across the image.
A man is standing in front of an open door with an arched top; the word “Office” can be clearly read behind his head. His shoulder leans against the doorframe, one knee slightly bent. His eyes stare off into the distance. Before Zach understands what he’s seeing, his stomach twists. It’s a photograph of him.
Photo of B.A. Shapiro by Lynn Wayne. Excerpt from Metropolis © 2022 B.A. Shapiro. Reprinted with permission of Algonquin Books.