Book Review - The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece

By Suzanne Gougherty |  

This book by Edward Dolnick is a compelling story for those drawn to detective-like plots. The Rescue Artist provides an astonishing inside look at how a real art detective works to recover stolen art of all kinds.  

The central character in this true story is Charley Hill, who operates as an undercover art detective who worked for Scotland Yard. He is the lead detective whose elaborate scheme to recover "The Scream" after it was easily stolen from the Oslo National Museum in 1994, during the opening days of the Winter Olympics. When he passed away in February, Hill was considered one of the best in his field.  

This heist was so darn easy! As the story opens, you have two thugs, who in the dark of the night prop a ladder on the outside wall of the National Gallery, break a damn window, jump in and lift Evards Munch's "The Scream"  from the wall.  

Yes, an alarm went off, but the guard was busy doing paperwork shortly after finishing his rounds. The guard ignores it, thinking it's another false alarm, and there you have it - The Scream is gone.  And there is much more to the ladder part -  actually comical.

However, the core of the story is how Hill devised a plan to recover the famous painting, which involves the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, to the buttoned-down character Hill portrays as an art representative for the Getty - with all the official paperwork, which is interesting in itself. There are plenty of hair-raising moments that are intertwined with stories of Hill's life and other art theft recoveries he has worked on over the years.  

While it is suspenseful, it's also funny at times - how could it not, a bunch of off-center characters with quirky personalities and mobster mentality, which adds even more drama to this true-crime thriller. As a reader, one gets a glance into the minds of those involved in the theft, from art dealers lacking a solid reputation to back street gangsters types and international thugs. Recovering art is not an easy job - but Charlie Hill had his ways and skills - that’s for sure.

Suzanne Gougherty is a Michigan-based 50-year radio veteran who currently involved in the sale and acquisition of North American terrestrial radio properties.

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