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4.0 out of 5 stars The Nervy World of Art Theft, Oct. 7 2011
Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece (Paperback)
I like stories that draw me into a world that is just beyond my imagination. It is in this environment that I am forced to contend with the interplay of forces that operate on a vastly different emotional and moral plane than I. Edward Dolnick, in "The Rescue Artist", has written such a book that deals with the seedy, sordid and shady world of art theft. This book is full of intrigue, dare-devilry, and skull-duggery, and sprinkled with some moments of fun as the author delves into the story behind the 1994 theft of the famous painting, "The Scream", and its eventual recovery. This account is not just another tale of how a bizarre crime is solved by intricate sleuthing. Rather, Dolnick introduces us to the general mindset and psychology of art theft and how it is possible to defeat the thief at his game. The hero in the story is Charles Hill; the villains an assortment of low-life fencers, opportunists, terrorists and career crooks. Hill is one of those persons who is adept at entering the world of the art thief through assuming many different character foils. He loves to act out of character by becoming one of them in order to expose their devious little plans. Hill's achievements in this field of endeavour have resulted in dozens of priceless paintings being recovered and many criminals brought to justice, though it is never easy. Regular police forces, including Interpol, are loathe to spend heaps of money on recovery of lost paintings that were either underinsured to start with or only reflect some collector's inflated notion of value. Part of the book is devoted to how this very talented man came to become an art detective for hire. Extensive work as a regular cop, a love for art history, and time in the jungles of Vietnam all have contributed to a fascinating modus operandi. What Hill learned through these various experiences leads directly to this ultimate assignment in Oslo, Norway. Hill, of course, has to go undercover in order to winkle out and do business with the crooks. What he discovers, for his efforts, might come as a surprise to some of us. While paintings can be easily grabbed with a little planning and carry some promise of reward, the real motive is often as simple as a piqued vanity or an adrenalin rush. Since stolen masterpieces can't sell on the open market, it is Hill's job to enter that murky world where business is conducted between criminals who are often desperate to unload their ill-gotten gains. Above all else, it is more imperative that the piece in question is recovered than arrests are made by the police. If there is a weakness in this book, it might be found in the fact that we only get to see Hill's larger-than-life side of the story and his hard-headed view of the thief. Maybe this is because, as Hill so eloquently observes, who would believe a con anyway. Nevertheless, a great read for those of us seeking insights into the criminal mind.
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The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece
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