THE IRISH GAME: A True Story of Crime and Art

Matthew Hart, Author . Walker $24 (220p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1426-8

In this engaging account of how stolen paintings have become collateral in the international drug trade, starting with the 1974 theft of a priceless Vermeer from an Irish estate, British author Hart (Diamond: A Journey to the Heart of an Obsession ) offers a convincing revisionist view of the closest thing the book has to a protagonist, legendary Irish thug Martin Cahill (aka "The General"). The case that the "slovenly, loyal, suspicious, immovable" Cahill was no mastermind, however, tends to render the narrative more prosaic than dramatic, as does the argument that most heists, including the sensational 1990 robbery from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the 1994 theft of Edvard Munch's The Scream , involved more chutzpah and embarrassing security lapses than Topkapi -like planning. The author's primary strength lies in his character portraits—he describes one upper-class art thief as rooting around "in the issues of the day like someone picking through a bin for a hat that would fit." The dedicated Irish police who tracked these criminals and attempted numerous stings to recover the paintings deserve credit for their heroism, but they aren't particularly memorable. Still, Hart sheds light on a little-known area of modern crime that should be of interest to many general readers. Agent, Michael Carlisle . National author tour . (May 14)

Reviewed on: 04/26/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
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