The Art Thief Book Review - Cross and Double-Cross!

Here’s my book review of The Art Thief: A Novel by Noah Charney.

The Art Thief: A Novel by Noah Charney (Washington Square Press)

Noah Charney is a professor of art history and an expert in fine art forgery and theft. And in this novel he proves himself to be a sly spinner of detective yarn. The Art Thief is a tale of brain-teasing complexity involving multiple, interconnected forgeries and thefts of historic paintings from several institutions. And its resolution necessarily involves multiple detectives and forensic experts, each as colorful and eccentric in his own way as Inspector Clouseau.

Author and art historian Noah Charney (Urska Charney, noahcharney.com)

The victims – museum curators and aristo collectors – are a classier bunch who tend to both snobbery and hypocrisy – not the most admirable human beings. Classiest of all are the scheming thieves and forgers. You see, in today’s genre fiction, perpetrators of  these presumably victimless crimes against the upper class have the cachet of winners at Wimbledon. Well played, chaps! In a previous generation, this place of honor was held by jewel thieves who connived to execute intricately plotted heists. Remember Cary Grant – never more dashing than in his role as John Robie in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief? Or Melina Mercouri and her artful crew in Topkapi?

Clue #1: The Annunciation by Caravaggio circa 1608-10 (Museum of Fine Arts of Nancy)

Along the way, Prof. Charney is going to teach you a lot about art history and criticism. And that’s even if you consider yourself well versed. He’s never happier or more entertaining than when his donnish characters tear off on rants to their dunderhead students about how to study paintings.

Clue #2: Suprematist Composition: White on White by Kazimir Malevich 1918 (Museum of Modern Art PD-US)


Here’s an example. His Professor Barrow pontificates: “I speak of observation, looking in order to gather information, rather than merely looking. Look deeper. Observation followed by logical deduction leads to solution. You shall see.”

Charney's most recent nonfiction on his favorite subject (Phaidon Press)

And isn’t this just what the reader of a detective story must learn to do? Observe and deduce?

The Art Thief is great fun, but my advice would be to keep a scratchpad handy. The plots, the players, the crosses and the double-crosses are so intertwined you’ll want to make a diagram to keep track. (Charney's latest is nonfiction on his favorite subject - The Art of Forgery: The Minds, Motives and Methods of the Master Forgers.)

Gerald Everett Jones (Gabriella Muttone Photography)



Gerald Everett Jones hosts the weekly Boychik Lit book radio reviews, which air on  Saturday nights on The Mark Isler Show on KRLA 870 AM Los Angeles. His humorous novels include Mr. Ballpoint about the consumer craze of the Pen Wars in 1945. You can access all previous podcasts on BoychikLit.com. His forthcoming novel about an art scandal in 1890s Paris is Bonfire of the Vanderbilts.

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