Engaging exposé of an underground world less glamorous and more intricate than its Hollywood representations.

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HOT ART

CHASING THIEVES AND DETECTIVES THROUGH THE SECRET WORLD OF STOLEN ART

Skillfully rendered overview of the startlingly complex world of art fraud and thievery. 

Toronto-based journalist Knelman makes shrewd use of extensive interviews with figures on both sides of the law, allowing him to fully establish this hidden, high-stakes milieu. The author argues that, far from being a sexy victimless crime, art theft has a hugely corrupting influence on museums, commerce and cultural patrimony. As one thief tells him, “It’s like a big shell game. All the antique and art dealers, they just pass it around from one to another.” One key element of the story is provided by “Paul,” a retired British art thief who has since started an angry blog on the topic called Art Hostage. Paul explains why this has been such a profitable criminal specialty: It is low-risk and high-reward, the police response is  often disorganized and the purportedly legitimate art market is suffused with hidden relationships and secrecy. As the LAPD’s art-theft specialist observed, “some art dealers act like drug dealers.” Since the 1980s, law enforcement has coordinated tracking efforts with the industry-run Art Loss Register, yet numerous unscrupulous individuals evade their efforts, constantly developing innovations to both hide, and eventually sell, stolen art. The FBI finds stolen art at auction 15 to 20 times per year, while the few urban cops on the art detail have consistently found it being used as underground-economy currency by drug dealers and organized crime. Knelman’s account is surprisingly pessimistic, but it’s entertainingly written, with a fine sense of the cultural landscape that drives both thieves and a handful of cops to become self-educated art experts in perpetual competition.

Engaging exposé of an underground world less glamorous and more intricate than its Hollywood representations.

Pub Date: March 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-935639-38-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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IN COLD BLOOD

"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history...

THUNDERSTRUCK

A murder that transfixed the world and the invention that made possible the chase for its perpetrator combine in this fitfully thrilling real-life mystery.

Using the same formula that propelled Devil in the White City (2003), Larson pairs the story of a groundbreaking advance with a pulpy murder drama to limn the sociological particulars of its pre-WWI setting. While White City featured the Chicago World’s Fair and America’s first serial killer, this combines the fascinating case of Dr. Hawley Crippen with the much less gripping tale of Guglielmo Marconi’s invention of radio. (Larson draws out the twin narratives for a long while before showing how they intersect.) Undeniably brilliant, Marconi came to fame at a young age, during a time when scientific discoveries held mass appeal and were demonstrated before awed crowds with circus-like theatricality. Marconi’s radio sets, with their accompanying explosions of light and noise, were tailor-made for such showcases. By the early-20th century, however, the Italian was fighting with rival wireless companies to maintain his competitive edge. The event that would bring his invention back into the limelight was the first great crime story of the century. A mild-mannered doctor from Michigan who had married a tempestuously demanding actress and moved to London, Crippen became the eye of a media storm in 1910 when, after his wife’s “disappearance” (he had buried her body in the basement), he set off with a younger woman on an ocean-liner bound for America. The ship’s captain, who soon discerned the couple’s identity, updated Scotland Yard (and the world) on the ship’s progress—by wireless. The chase that ends this story makes up for some tedious early stretches regarding Marconi’s business struggles.

At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history lesson.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-8066-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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