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The Irish Game

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An audacious theft, a brilliant sting, an astonishing discovery-a true story of modern art theft

About the Author

Matthew Hart is a writer and journalist, and the author of Diamond- A Journey to the Heart of an Obsession. His work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Granta, and the Financial Post, among other publications. He lives in London.


Central to Hart's story is the hapless Protestant Ascendancy mansion at Russborough, Ireland, and a painting by Vermeer. Filled with fine art by its owners, since donated to the Irish National Gallery, the collection was robbed repeatedly, once by the heiress to the fortune and most famously by Irish gangster Martin Cahill. Journalist Hart (Diamond: A Journal to the Heart of an Obsession) has woven together a little gem of a story that includes a breakthrough in understanding the Vermeer, attributable to its being robbed. Cahill created a new category of art thief; in addition to those stealing for private collectors and for ransom, he added those using classic paintings as collateral among thieves. Scotland Yard is portrayed in the early 1990s at its peak in cracking art thefts. And then there's the IRA. Though the narrative bogs down occasionally, ultimately it all pulls together. Strongly recommended for art history and criminal justice collections and for anyone who loves a good crime yarn. Robert Moore, Bristol-Myers Squibb Medical Imaging, North Billerica, MA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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