Summary and book reviews of The Rescue Artist by Edward Dolnick

The Rescue Artist

A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece

By Edward Dolnick

The Rescue Artist
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2005,
    270 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2006,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

Prologue
June 2004

The mismatched pictures stare down from the wall of the tiny office:

Vermeer, Goya, Titian, Munch, Rembrandt. Ordinary reproductions worth only a few dollars, they are unframed and of different sizes.

Several dangle slightly askew from tacks jammed in the wall. The originals hung in gilt frames in the grandest museums in the world, and tourists made pilgrimages to see them. Each was worth millions, or tens of millions.

And, at some point in the last several years, each was stolen. Some were recovered—the tall man who arranged this small display is the one who found them—and some are still missing. The "curator" of this odd collection dislikes anything that smacks of statistics, but he is haunted by a melancholy fact: nine out of ten stolen paintings disappear forever.

In the world of art crime, one detective has an unmatched résumé. His name is Charley Hill. The aim of this book is to explore the art underworld;...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction

Edward Dolnick has done a terrific job in The Rescue Artist of opening up all the elements of a specific event-the theft of Edward Munch's famous painting The Scream - and bringing them together like a skilled choreographer, resulting in a great reading experience. This book has it all: truth, suspense, humor, in-depth analysis, great characterizations, wonderful writing, and a truly interesting look at civilization in all its layers.

When thieves climbed a ladder into the National Gallery of Oslo, Norway in 1994 and made off with The Scream, a national treasure and an international cultural icon, a drama was set into motion that is better than any fictional crime novel or screenplay. Dolnick explores ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha
Outstanding...fascinating, expertly told, with characters as crisply-drawn as any Rembrandt, and...intrigue...found only in a thriller.

Author Blurb Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
The Rescue Artist is a masterpiece. Engrossing, entertaining, often surreally hilarious.

Author Blurb Gerard O'Neill, co-author of Black Mass: The Irish Mob, the FBI, and a Devil's Deal
A fast-paced and beautifully written romp through the world of big-time art crime....A rollicking good ride.

Publishers Weekly

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.

Kirkus Reviews

The various digressions slow the pace a little as we wait for Dolnick to get back to the story of The Scream, which needs no embellishment in its extraordinary twists, screw-ups, coincidences, and quick thinking on the part of Hill and his team of experienced undercover cops.....Overall, a picaresque tale.

Booklist

Dolnick attempts to disabuse readers of the notion that art thieves are glamorous, yet he can't help but contribute to our fascination with art crime because the stories he tells are so full of daring, bizarre twists, and unsolved mysteries.

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Beyond the Book

Edvard Munch, Norway's most popular artist, died in 1944, aged 81. He was a painter, lithographer, etcher and wood engraver, most famous for his paintings of The Scream. . He created five different variations of The Scream (4 paintings and one lithograph) which is fortunate as the Norwegians do seem to have a habit of losing them. In 1994 one was stolen from Oslo's National Gallery, and then in 2004 another version was stolen from the Munch Museum (a tempura on cardboard version) along with Munch's Madonna...

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