Exciting, well-crafted tale of the “School of Turin,” a gang of master thieves who looted the putatively theft-proof Antwerp Diamond Center.
Selby and Campbell (Blood Diamonds: Tracing The Deadly Path of the World’s Most Precious Stones, 2002, etc.) provide an engrossing nonfiction thriller with a truly improbable story at its center, but they also provide a colorful look at the shadowy world of the diamond trade—how they’re graded, sold, secured and stolen. In February 2003, the prim staff of the Diamond Center—a supposedly impregnable fortress at the heart of that city’s ultra-secure “Diamond Square Mile”—found their vault had been looted over the weekend, with discarded gems piled on the floor. The heist was the product of two years’ worth of planning by the storied School of Turin, a near-mythical fraternity of secretive jewel thieves based in an Italian city known for its clever criminals. The authors initially focus on the gang’s “inside man,” Leonardo Notarbartolo, who brazenly rented an office in the complex, then spent endless hours casing it, using tricks like a hidden video camera in the vault—one of the book’s strengths is the attention to the minutiae of the heist. The Diamond Center’s various defenses proved no match for the gang, whose specialists patiently analyze the various alarms, cameras, locks and sensors guarding the vault. The actual heist went smoothly, but the thieves miscalculated terribly afterward, throwing away incriminating trash in a forest patrolled by a ranger obsessed with littering. When Notarbartolo returned to the Diamond Center to allay suspicion, the cops were waiting for him. He served six years in prison, but almost none of the estimated $500 million in loot was recovered. Many readers will agree that “their capture and incarceration for the largest diamond heist in history seems to have been well worth the price they paid.” Selby and Campbell offer an effective, well-researched collaboration, in which the classic heist story illustrates the seamy underbelly and criminal lure behind the bright façade of the diamond industry.
Sure to appeal to armchair rogues and, like Blood Diamond, cinema-ready.