THE ART THIEF - Noah Charney

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

THE ART THIEF is crime fiction where the crime is not murder or mayhem.  The author of this book is (from his blurb) considered the world's leading expert on the history and study of art crime, so the point of this book seems to be to explore the nature and motivation for high profile art thefts and forgery.

There is a rather complicated plotline going on here.  Firstly an altarpiece disappears in Rome.  A valuable, renowned abstract painting is stolen in Paris from the vaults of the society charged with protecting the legacy of the painter Malevich.  Then a new Malevich acquisition is stolen in London, after a lot of chicanery with the computerised alarm systems of the gallery.  Now where things get really complicated is whether or not the painting stolen in Paris is the same painting that was purchased in London, and if it was - which one is the forgery?  Or are both of them forgeries?  It's possibly a little hard to tell as the paintings are all famous examples of White on White. 

Inspector Jean-Jacques Bizot is leading the investigation in Paris, helped by the curator of the Malevich Society, Genevieve Delacloche, whilst Inspector Harry Wickenden is in London, assisted by National Gallery chief Elizabeth van der Mier. There is also art expert and former Carabinieri officer Gabriel Coffin who is attempting to track down the missing altarpiece from Rome.  All of this occurs in a welter of anonymous phone calls, obscure biblical quotes and other clues, fake Malevichs, hugely self-indulgent gourmet feasts (Paris of course), and tea and austere living (London of course).  Confused?

Lurking deep within this book there were some highlights.  Obviously the author knows a lot about art theft, and some of the aspects of that knowledge were interesting.  The problem really is that the plot gets convoluted and there were times when I felt I needed a mindmap to keep track of the who, what, where, when and whys.   There was definitely some humour in some of the characterisations but there was also caricature - the French gourmand was frequently too gross, the English tea drinking Inspector too ascetic.

THE ART THIEF definitely provides an interesting glimpse into the world of Art Theft, and for those looking for a crime fiction book that provides some education about that, then this will definitely be the book for you.  It could also appeal to somebody looking for a yarn, with a zero body count.

Year of Publication

Rome - A magnificent Caravaggio altarpiece disappears at dead of night.

Paris - In the basement vault of the Malevich Society curator Genevieve Delacloche is shocked to discover that one of its greatest treasures has vanished.

London - The National Gallery's newest acquisition is stolen just hours after it was purchased for £6.3 million.

As three separate investigations get underway, Inspector Jean-Jacques Bizot in Paris and Harry Wickenden of Scotland Yard begin to suspect that what at first appears a spate of random thefts is nothing of the kind.

Review THE ART THIEF - Noah Charney
Karen Chisholm
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

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