The theft of, search for and recovery of Edvard Munch’s The Scream (the first time).
Dolnick (Down the Great Unknown, 2001, etc.), former chief science writer for the Boston Globe, offers a treatise on art theft using as his take-off point the remarkably easy 1994 pilfering of Munch’s masterpiece from Norway’s National Gallery. The protagonist is an Anglo-American detective for Scotland Yard, Charlie Hill, a Brit of a certain independent type, with scant regard for petty regulations that get in the way of practicality. But Hill’s genuine love of the art he pursues personalizes both his search and the book itself. The chase is something of a game for Hill, just as it is to a certain extent for the thieves. Dolnick’s narrative, in fact, is frequently interrupted with digressions on famous art thieves, previous art thefts (particularly the 1990 job at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) and short vignettes, among them Charlie Hill’s war stories from Vietnam. Readers will discover the ridiculousness of the popular image of a reclusive collector who has paid thieves to steal art for his own personal and private enjoyment. Thieves steal art not for any such reason as that but because it’s valuable and relatively unguarded, even in museums. They steal art because it’s there. The various digressions slow the pace a little as we wait for Dolnick to get back to the story of The Scream, which needs no embellishment in its extraordinary twists, screw-ups, coincidences, and quick thinking on the part of Hill and his team of experienced undercover cops. In the end, we’re left with the impression that they recovered the painting in spite of the Norwegian police rather than because of them.
Sadly, Dolnick makes it clear why another version of The Scream, and also Munch’s Madonna, could be pinched from Oslo’s Munch Museum so easily a year ago—and why both are still at large. Overall, a picaresque tale.