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The Gardner Heist

This month the Narrative Nonfiction book club met to discuss The Gardner Heist:  The True Story Of The World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser.  Boser was a contributing editor for U.S. News and World Report and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington PostThe Gardner Heist was a Boston Globe best seller for many months and a national best seller as well.

In 2005 Boser set out to interview Harold Smith, a renowned art and jewelry theft investigator, in order to write a newspaper article about the man and his job.  The investigator had been working for years to track down the thieves of the largest art theft in the world.  Twelve works of art, including three Rembrandts and a Vermeer totaling more than $500 million dollars, were stolen in the early morning of March 18, 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.  Only weeks after the two men met, Harold Smith died leaving the tantalizing case unsolved.  Boser took it upon himself to continue the pursuit and spent several years tracking down the leads Smith collected, plus new ones he dredged up.  He traveled the globe and interviewed numerous people:  FBI agents, felons, lawyers and more. He even traveled to Ireland to find Whitey Bulger thinking Whitey must be in control of the art.  We follow Boser as he works the case and finally gives up, defeated and missing his family.  Now, 20 years after the crime, the art is still missing and no suspects have been charged. 

The discussion group was nearly unanimous in thinking that the book was not great literature, but it was fun to talk about.  Some complained that the author went back and forth from one person of interest to another and did not wrap up each lead neatly.  The language was too casual for some.  However, these issues did not bother everyone as that is probably the way an investigation unfolds and the language was germane to the subject at hand – the underbelly of society where crime is the game and stolen art are the game pieces.  We also discussed the fact that the author included himself in the book in contrast to newspaper articles in which the reporter remains objective.  The group felt having the author include himself made the story engaging.  Several members were surprised to learn that art is seldom stolen in order to hang on the wall of a wealthy and powerful art lover for his or her private enjoyment.  Rather, works of art are frequently stolen to be used as currency or bargaining chips by criminals.  Hence the strong interest in Whitey Bulger, our native mob boss.  We enjoyed the book and the discussion it spawned, if not the language and sequencing of events. 

Next month we will discuss the Botany of Desire:  A Plant’s Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan.  Read the book and come share your thoughts with others.  Pick up a copy at the reference desk and come to the meeting on Friday, July 8, 2011 at 10am in the Hermann meeting room.  We look forward to seeing you then!

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