The Art Thief by Noah Charney, narrated by Simon Vance
Read: because I needed a new audio book didn’t have one on hold at the time. It caught my eye at the library. (Washington Square Press, 320 pages)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (finished 1/19/10)
Synopsis: 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.
Overall Impression: I’m pretty sure this was a less-than-mediocre book. But I think I liked it slightly more than many other reviewers for two reasons. First, the reader, Simon Vance, was great. He’s won several Earphone Awards and has been nominated for a bunch of Audies. (Should I be embarrassed that I know this much about audio books? Probably.) The book’s cast of characters is vast — there are men and women from England, the US, France, Italy, and who can remember where else. They are different ages and in different classes in society. Vance manages to pull all of them off, not to mention quite a bit of the French language as well. He brought characters to life that would have been flat on paper. Second, I have a minor in art and I really enjoyed art history, which this book really delves into. There was one point where a professor discusses all the symbolism of Jan Van Eyck’s “The Marriage of the Arnolfinis”, that I thought, if the person listening to this doesn’t give a flip about art, they would drive into a wall. But art history is fascinating to me, so the long diversions into the meaning behind certain works of art were not unwelcome, at least to me. This all did, however, feel like the author was like, “I know more about ART and THIEVERY and RED HERRINGS than anyone in the entire history of the WORLD, and I will tell you ALLL about it and you’ll LIKE IT!”
Moving on. I think the story itself was a little hard to follow (granted, it probably would have been easier in paper-book form, since I could have flipped back to figure out the difference between the characters). It was uneven and jumped around quite a bit and focused heavily on some characters and then left them altogether. The end was implausible, and, as someone who really likes the idea of justice, I was left with a “gah!” taste in my mouth. The characters were stereotypes (the bumbling detective and his sidekick, the femme fetale, the know-it-all experts, etc.). Meh. Now that I’m writing about it, I think it might deserve a 4 or 3. But Vance’s reading was so good, I’ll keep it at a 5.
Pros: Interesting bits about art history. I really liked the professor, whose name escapes me right now. His dialogue was quite funny. And like I said, Simon Vance is a great audiobook reader.
Cons: Contrived, overly complicated, flat characters, what felt like a condescending attitude from the writer.
Other books I’ve read by Noah Charney: none
Other books I’ve listened to by Simon Vance: I’m currently listening to Robinson Crusoe.
Extras: Noah Charney’s website.