In the predawn gloom of a February day in 1994, two thieves entered the National Gallery in Oslo. They snatched one of the world's most famous paintings, Edvard Munch's The Scream, and fled with their $72 million trophy. The thieves made sure the world was watching: the Winter Olympics, in Lillehammer, began that same morning. Baffled and humiliated, the Norwegian police called on the world's greatest art detective, a half-English, half-American undercover cop named Charley Hill.
In this rollicking narrative, Edward Dolnick takes us inside the art underworld. The trail leads high and low, and the cast ranges from titled aristocrats to thick-necked thugs. Lord Bath, resplendent in ponytail and velvet jacket, presides over a 9,000-acre estate. David Duddin, a 300-pound fence who once tried to sell a stolen Rembrandt, spins exuberant tales of his misdeeds. We meet Munch, too, a haunted misfit who spends his evenings drinking in the Black Piglet Café and his nights feverishly trying to capture in paint the visions in his head. The most compelling character of all is Charley Hill, an ex-soldier, a would-be priest, and a complicated mix of brilliance, foolhardiness, and charm. The hunt for The Scream will either cap his career and rescue one of the world's best-known paintings or end in a fiasco that will dog him forever.
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Edward Dolnick is the author of Down the Great Unknown, The Forger’s Spell, and the Edgar Award-winning The Rescue Artist. A former chief science writer at the Boston Globe, he lives with his wife near Washington, D.C.From Publishers Weekly:
The little-known world of art theft is compellingly portrayed in Dolnick's account of the 1994 theft and recovery of Edvard Munch's iconic painting The Scream. The theft was carried out with almost comical ease at Norway's National Gallery in Oslo on the very morning that the Winter Olympics began in that city. Despite the low-tech nature of the crime, the local police were baffled, and Dolnick (Down the Great Unknown; Madness on the Couch) makes a convincing case that the fortunate resolution of the investigation was almost exclusively due to the expertise, ingenuity and daring of the "rescue artist" of the title: Charley Hill, a Scotland Yard undercover officer and former Fulbright scholar who has made recovering stolen art treasures his life's work. Hill is a larger-than-life figure who seems lifted from the pages of Elmore Leonard, although his adversaries in this inquiry are fairly pedestrian. While the path to the painting's retrieval is relatively straightforward once some shady characters put the word out that they can get their hands on it, the narrative's frequent detours to other crimes and engaging escapades from Hill's past elevate this work above last year's similar The Irish Game by Matthew Hart. 16 pages of b&w and 8 pages of color photos not seen by PW.
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