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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 55.
- Review Date: 2007-07-30
- Reviewer: Staff
With its flat characters, overly technical exposition and a plot implausible even in the wake of The Da Vinci Code, art historian Charney's debut disappoints. When a priceless Caravaggio altarpiece disappears from Rome's Santa Giuliana church, the police call in renowned art historian Gabriel Coffin to investigate. Coffin detects a pattern after a rare Kasimir Malevich Suprematist painting disappears in Paris and another Malevich is stolen from London's National Gallery soon after being purchased at Christie's. As potential forgeries are uncovered and the thieves taunt those on the trail of the missing art with riddles and ransom demands, Coffin and his fellow art experts must race to recover the stolen masterpieces before they disappear forever. Despite his extensive knowledge of the art world's criminal underbelly, Charney delivers a story so bogged down with minutiae that even the most dedicated reader will get stuck. (Sept.)
Double trouble in the art world
Art crime and its detection have naturally become hot topics in a red-hot art market, where the prices for Old Master paintings have soared through the auction-house roof. Scan the pages of ArtNews every month and you'll find one story after another about a major heist here or a dramatic recovery of a lost masterpiece there. Edvard Munch's "The Scream" is now surely more famous for having been stolen and restored than it ever was for merely being the greatest Expressionist painting of all time.
Debut author Noah Charney enjoys a unique vantage point from which to spin his tale of art-world intriguea young historian of impeccable academic pedigree, he also manages a consulting group on art crime prevention and solution. In other words, Charney is a real-life version of his novel's hero Gabriel Coffin, the most eagerly sought-after expert on "how to catch an art thief" on the international scene.
Charney builds The Art Thief around a double theft: a Caravaggio from Rome and a Malevich from Parisor is it London? Two Malevich paintings going by the same title have disappeared, so it becomes apparent (but far from clear) that forgery is somehow involved. The ordinary pleasures of a detective novel are doubled when two inspectorsone French and one Englishtake on the case, bringing all their irresistible national traits in tow. A mixture of inside information on the art market and lively art history (including four actual lectures, all of them brilliantly devised) brings the novel very close to nonfiction territory.
It's hard to imagine a more ambitious or ingenious advertisement for a detective agency than for the director to write an entertaining novel on the subject. If Charney is as good at catching thieves as he is at imagining them, the real crooks better think twice before they make their next break-in.
Michael Alec Rose is a professor at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music.