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 intrigue a 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 Paris or 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 inspectors one French and one English take 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.