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The Art Thief

The disappearance of a priceless Caravaggio in Rome and the famous 'White on White' by Russian painter Kasimir Malevich in Paris heralds the start of a series of seemingly unconnected art crimes across Europe. Fitting the pieces together as they follow a trail of bluffs and double-bluffs, bizarre clues and intellectual puzzles, Inspector Jean-Jacques Bizot in Paris and Harry Wickenden of Scotland Yard come to realize that what at first appears a spate of random thefts is all part of a single master plan, and that they are being led ever deeper into a baffling conspiracy.

This fiendishly clever debut thriller takes us behind the scenes of the elite fine art world of auction houses, academia and museums to offer a fascinating view of art history, witty, fast-paced dialogue and an ever-surprising plot that twists its way from Rome to Paris to London and back again.

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
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!
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.

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (August 4, 2008)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781847391414