cover image Unbecoming


Rebecca Scherm. Viking, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-42750-6

Scherm’s debut novel traces the transformation of a smalltown American girl into a professional international jewel thief. The novel opens in Paris, where 23-year-old Grace from Garland, Tenn., posing as Julie from California, earns a meager living restoring antiques and repairing jewelry. Grace’s boss has her working on what are probably stolen items, and Grace is not above stealing a few gems herself, but her biggest worry is that her husband, Riley, and her onetime lover, Alls, both recently released from a Tennessee prison, will track her down. She hasn’t been in touch with either since their arrest for a robbery Grace initiated before escaping to Europe in possession of a stolen painting. Through flashbacks, Scherm shows Grace, Riley, and Alls growing up together: Riley, the privileged son of a doctor and his nurturing wife; Grace, welcomed like a daughter by Riley’s parents; Alls, raised without wealth or even a mother to become more dangerous than Riley. Scherm mixes a character study with a caper novel full of double-crosses, lies, and betrayals, as when Grace is robbed immediately after selling the stolen painting. She is at her best when describing precious objects: a Dutch master’s still life, a James Mont cigar box with hidden compartment, an ornate centerpiece with fanciful fruit and figurines, and silver spoons ignored by their owners but appreciated by the professional hired to evaluate them. [em]Agent: Susan Golomb, Susan Golomb Literary Agency. (Jan.) [/em]