The Art Thief

A Novel

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About The Book

Rome: In the small Baroque church of Santa Giuliana, a magnificent Caravaggio altarpiece disappears without a trace in the middle of the night.

Paris: In the basement vault of the Malevich Society, curator Geneviéve Delacloche is shocked to discover the disappearance of the Society's greatest treasure, White-on-White by Suprematist painter Kasimir Malevich.

London: At the National Gallery of Modern Art, the museum's latest acquisition is stolen just hours after it was purchased for more than six million pounds.

In The Art Thief, three thefts are simultaneously investigated in three cities, but these apparently isolated crimes have much more in common than anyone imagines. In Rome, the police enlist the help of renowned art investigator Gabriel Coffin when tracking down the stolen masterpiece. In Paris, Geneviéve Delacloche is aided by Police Inspector Jean-Jacques Bizot, who finds a trail of bizarre clues and puzzles that leads him ever deeper into a baffling conspiracy. In London, Inspector Harry Wickenden of Scotland Yard oversees the museum's attempts to ransom back its stolen painting, only to have the masterpiece's recovery deepen the mystery even further.

A dizzying array of forgeries, overpaintings, and double-crosses unfolds as the story races through auction houses, museums, and private galleries -- and the secret places where priceless works of art are made available to collectors who will stop at nothing to satisfy their hearts' desires.

Full of fascinating art-historical detail, crackling dialogue, and a brain-teasing plot, Noah Charney's debut novel is a sophisticated, stylish thriller, as irresistible and multifaceted as a great work of art.

Reading Group Guide
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. In Chapter 4, the author spends a great deal of time detailing Gabriel Coffin, "one of the art world's strangest characters." What are some of the most pertinent characteristics that we learn about Coffin when he is first introduced? Were you to use one word to describe him, what would it be? Do you consider him good or bad?
2. Coffin's "job was to protect art from the wicked, the criminal. To hunt down thieves. But could there be a good thief?" (p. 53) How would you answer this question? Did your answer change during the course of reading this book? If so, why?
3. "Nothing an author could contrive is half as bizarre as events that have truly happened." (p. 122) Do you agree with this sentiment? Could this story have happened?
4. Malevich's painting White on White, when compared to Caravaggio's work, brings up a number of questions regarding the nature of art. Elizabeth Van Der Mier notes of the thieves, "They want us to conclude that money should be better spent than on a piece of canvas painted white." (p. 215) Is she correct? Could stealing art be another form of art criticism?
5. Gabriel says, "There is no vengeance which may be inflicted, as biting and as limitless as regret." (p. 263) Do you think that he is right?
6. After solving their end of the case, Bizot and Lesgourges have a meaningful conversation about art and their treasure hunt. Bizot says, "For thoughtful people, there is a reason for everything....It's not solving the philosophical puzzle. This is about solving the literal puzzle: what we see on the surface, not how we read what we see. These people think only skin deep." (p. 268) How do you view art? Are you attracted to the deeper meaning of a painting or to its physical beauty? Do your views change depending on the painting itself? When and why?
7. Who is the hero and who is the villain of this story? Or does this novel have a hero or a villain? Why or why not?
8. In the Epilogue, Coffin asks Vallombroso which painting she would rather own, the Caravaggio or the Malevich? What does her answer reveal about her? Were the value of each to be the same, which would you rather own? Or would you insist that they both be in a museum so that they can be shared with others?
9. Which character goes through the greatest transformation from the beginning of the story to the end? What is that change and how do they go through it? What do you think was the greatest catalyst for that change?
10. When did you realize the scheme that had been played out on the parties involved? What was the major clue or tipping point for your realization? Whom did you first suspect? Why?
Enhance Your Book Group
1. Take a tour of your local art museum with your book group. For a full list of fine art collections in your local area, visit artcyclopedia.com/museums.html.
2. Learn more about Malevich and Caravaggio. Some great books include Caravaggio: The Art of Realism, by John Varriano; Kazimir Malevich: Suprematism, by Nina Gurianova, Jean-Claude Marcade, Tatyana Mikhienko, and Yevgenia Petrova; and Kasimir Malevich and the Art of Geometry, by John Milner.
3. To learn more about art theft, read The Art Stealers by Milton Esterow or The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick.
4. Watch Ocean's Twelve, Topkapi, The Score, or the modern version of The Thomas Crown Affair -- just for fun!
About The Author
Photo Credit:

Noah Charney, twenty-seven years old, holds degrees in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and Cambridge University. He is the founding director of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), the first international think tank on art crime. He divides his time between New Haven, Connecticut; Cambridge, England; and Rome, Italy.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Atria Books (September 2007)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416568322

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Raves and Reviews

"A vivid, marvelously readable look at the world of stolen art. The fascinating tale keeps you constantly wondering -- does this really happen? Noah Charney knows his stuff." -- Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author of The Alexandria Link

"Noah Charney offers us a masterful thriller filled with revelations." -- Javier Sierra, New York Times bestselling author of The Lady in Blue

"A thrilling, literary page-turner, The Art Thief paints portraits of lovers, frauds, innocents, and scholars, all presented in Charney's sharp, fresh voice. This exciting debut establishes young Noah Charney as the curator of crime." -- Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of She's Not There

"Charney constructs an intricate web of crime, bolstering a sensational plot with well-crafted characters and extensive research. Eventful and exciting, The Art Thief is an enthralling novel." -- Vernon Rapley, head of the Art & Antiques Unit, New Scotland Yard

"Sleek, sharp, and sophisticated, The Art Thief will steal your spare time -- and you'll be happy you were robbed." -- Don Winslow, author of The Winter of Frankie Machine

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