Having very recently seen the movie The Monuments Men, which is based on a book by the same title by Robert M. Edsel and Brett Witter, I was reminded of other gripping books of true crime involving stolen art and other rare treasures.
Thieves of Book Row: New York’s most notorious rare book ring and the man who stopped itby Travis McDade. “No one had ever tried a caper like this before. The goods were kept in a secure room under constant scrutiny, deep inside a crowded building with guards at the exits. The team picked for the job included two old hands known only as Paul and Swede, but all depended on a fresh face, a kid from Pinetown, North Carolina. In the Depression, some fellows were willing to try anything–even a heist in the rare book room of the New York Public Library.
In Thieves of Book Row, Travis McDade tells the gripping tale of the worst book-theft ring in American history, and the intrepid detective who brought it down. Author of The Book Thief and a curator of rare books, McDade transforms painstaking research into a rich portrait of Manhattan’s Book Row in the 1920s and ’30s, where organized crime met America’s cultural treasures in dark and crowded shops along gritty Fourth Avenue. Dealers such as Harry Gold, a tough native of the Lower East Side, became experts in recognizing the value of books and recruiting a pool of thieves to steal them–many of them unemployed men who drifted up the Bowery or huddled around fires in Central Park’s shantytowns. When Paul and Swede brought a new recruit into his shop, Gold trained him for the biggest score yet: a first edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems. Gold’s recruit cased the rare-book room for weeks, searching for a weakness. When he found one, he struck, leading to a breathtaking game of wits between Gold and NYPL special investigator G. William Bergquist.
Both a fast-paced, true-life thriller, Thieves of Book Row provides a fascinating look at the history of crime and literary culture.” (Oxford University Press)
The Gardner Heist: a true story of the world’s largest unsolved art theftby Ulrich Boser. “Shortly after midnight on March 18, 1990, two men broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and committed the largest art heist in history. They stole a dozen masterpieces, including one Vermeer, three Rembrandts, and five Degas. But after thousands of leads, hundreds of interviews, and a $5-million reward, not a single painting has been recovered. Worth a total of $500 million, the missing masterpieces have become the Holy Grail of the art world and one of the nation’s most extraordinary unsolved mysteries.
Art detective Harold Smith worked on the theft for years, and after his death, reporter Ulrich Boser inherited his case files. Traveling deep into the art underworld, Boser explores Smith’s unfinished leads and comes across a remarkable cast of characters, including the brilliant rock ‘n’ roll art thief; the golden-boy gangster who professes his innocence in rhyming verse; the deadly mobster James “Whitey” Bulger; and the Boston heiress Isabella Stewart Gardner, who stipulated in her will that nothing should ever be changed in her museum, a provision followed so closely that the empty frames of the stolen works still hang on the walls. Boser eventually cracks one of the biggest mysteries of the case and uncovers the identities of the men who robbed the museum nearly two decades ago. A tale of art and greed, of obsession and loss, The Gardner Heist is as compelling as the stolen masterpieces themselves. (HarperCollins).
Priceless: how I went undercover to rescue the world’s stolen treasures by Robert K. Whitman. “Robert K. Wittman, the founder of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, pulls back the curtain on his remarkable career, offering a real-life international thriller. The son of an antique dealer, Wittman built a twenty-year career going undercover, usually unarmed, to catch art thieves, scammers, and black market traders in Paris and Philadelphia, Rio and Santa Fe, Miami and Madrid. Wittman tells the stories behind his recoveries of priceless art and antiquities: the golden armor of an ancient Peruvian warrior king; the Rodin sculpture that inspired the Impressionist movement; the rare Civil War battle flag carried into battle by one of the nation’s first African-American regiments. The art thieves and scammers he caught run the gamut from rich to poor, smart to foolish, organized criminals to desperate loners. Wittman has saved hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art and antiquities, but he considers them all equally priceless. (From publisher description).
The Rescue Artist: a true story of art, thieves, and the hunt for a missing masterpiece by Edward Dolnick. “In the predawn hours of a gloomy February day in 1994, two thieves entered the National Gallery in Oslo and made off with one of the world’s most famous paintings, Edvard Munch’s Scream … Baffled and humiliated, the Norwegian police turned to the one man they believed could help: a half English, half American undercover cop named Charley Hill, the world’s greatest art detective. The Rescue Artist is a rollicking narrative that carries readers deep inside the art underworld–and introduces them to a large and colorful cast of titled aristocrats, intrepid investigators, and thick-necked thugs. But most compelling of all is Charley Hill himself, a complicated mix of brilliance, foolhardiness, and charm whose hunt for a purloined treasure would either cap an illustrious career or be the fiasco that would haunt him forever.” (From publisher description).