Noah Charney founded and now directs an international think tank on art crime. The Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA) aids police and art conservators who find themselves confronted by an incident or incidents of art theft or art forgery. Given his experience and expertise, Charney is ideally situated to write a novel such as The Art Thief. Within its pages, a reader finds a provocative mystery surrounding the theft of three separate works of art, plus a fascinating explication of all facets of art crime. The characters not only seek solutions to the thievery, but also speak intelligently and thoroughly about art criminal behavior. I learned an enormous amount, while thoroughly enjoying a provocative puzzle.
Some of the characters are professional investigators, while others are art historians and museum employees with diverse areas of expertise. They live in different cities—Rome, Paris, and London—and at first the three thefts seem disparate. Rest assured that, by the end of the novel, the crimes are tied together in a most satisfactory way. Clues abound in The Art Thief, and an attentive reader will solve some of the plot complexities. Not all of them, however, not all. The last few chapters add some delicious new information, and I loved the surprises revealed at the end.
Another thing I loved about The Art Thief was the rollicking sense of humor that carries the story along. At first I thought I was being teased by the author, and then I realized the appropriateness of all the tongue-in-cheek conversations and observations. Some of the most charming exchanges occur between the Paris police inspector and his astute, amateur sidekick. Even wittier are the various art lectures given by two genuinely knowledgeable men, an art historian and an expert in art thievery, who convey dry information in ironic ways . I’ve written elsewhere in ‘Bookin’ with Sunny’ that humor is very difficult to sustain throughout a novel, and it’s especially hard when the storyline is so serious. Charney does a marvelous job of blending these two strains.
Or perhaps I should say three strains? Mystery, edification, and satire. Charney deserves a lot of credit for simultaneously mastering all three. If there is a problem with The Art Thief, it’s the fact that Charney packs so many characters and so much information into just three hundred pages. It takes a while for the reader to sort out every person and every crime, especially when the crimes complicate themselves. A theft becomes a forgery becomes a masterpiece beneath a fake becomes another theft becomes another forgery and so forth. Charney must have had fun writing this novel, but occasionally his puzzles are just plain puzzling. That should not be a deterrent, however, from picking up The Art Thief and relishing its every intricacy. I’m glad I read it, and will long remember what I learned about the artists Caravaggio and Malevich as well as what I digested about criminals and the world of art. – Ann Ronald
Also available by Charney: Stealing the Mystic Lamb; The Thefts of the Mona Lisa; Art and Crime