Publisher: PublicAffairs, March 2015
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The definitive story of the greatest art theft in history.
In a secret meeting in 1981, a low-level Boston thief gave career gangster Ralph Rossetti the tip of a lifetime: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was a big score waiting to happen. Though its collections included priceless artworks by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, and others, its security was cheap, mismanaged, and out of date. And now, it seemed, the whole Boston criminal underworld knew it.
Nearly a decade passed before the Museum museum was finally hit. But when it finally happened, the theft quickly became one of the most infamous art heists in history: thirteen works of art valued at up to 500 million, by some of the most famous artists in the world, were taken. The Boston FBI took control of the investigation, but twenty-five years later the case is still unsolved and the artwork is still missing.
Stephen Kurkjian, one of the top investigative reporters in the country, has been working this case for over nearly twenty years. In Master Thieves, he sheds new light on some of the Gardner's most abiding mysteries. Why would someone steal these paintings, only to leave them hidden for twenty-five years? And why, if one of the top crime bosses in the city knew about this score in 1981, did the theft happen in 1990? What happened in those intervening years? And what might all this have to do with Boston's notorious gang wars of the 1980s?
Kurkjian's reporting is already responsible for some of the biggest breaks in this story, including a meticulous reconstruction of what happened at the Museum museum that fateful night. Now Master Thieves will reveal the identities of those he believes plotted the heist, the motive for the crime, and the details that the FBI has refused to discuss. Taking you on a journey deep into the gangs of Boston, Kurkjian emerges with the most complete and compelling version of this story ever told.
When two police officers knock on the door of the Isabelle Garnder art museum in the middle of the night, the security team has no idea they are about to be the victims of master thieves. Nearly three decades later, the robbery of priceless pieces of art remains unsolved. Hooked by the heist from the start, Stephen Kurkjian, former Boston Globe reporter and member of the famed Spotlight team, shares what we know…and what they suspect.
- The presentation of the crime’s facts and depiction of the museum’s desperation to recover the lost artwork speaks to Kurkjian’s journalist background. Even while sharing basic knowledge about the crime, Kurkjian retained his narrative sense, creating a hook that kept me turning pages.
- I’d never heard of the heist itself. It was unimaginable to me that two guys, dressed (somewhat shabbily, if the stories are true) as police officers could waltz into an art museum and steal Rembrandts, Vermeers, and others.
- What made it especially fascinating where the details about the art world and the art crime divisions, a force I assumed existed, but had never thought of much.
- The background of the mob wars in Boston at the time. At first, they didn’t feel relevant (and to some degree, I’m not sure they are), but the dueling stories contrasted beautifully in Master Thieves.
- The interviews and portraits of the suspects, mobsters, police and museum officials created an emotional texture to Master Thieves that hooked me. However, it felt like Kurkjian occasionally went off on tangents about these people, forgetting to tie back why they were important to the Gardener robbery.
- I loved the level of detail included, but the amount of it sometimes weighed down the story instead of lifting it up, especially when Kurkjian was reintroducing us to people.
- Typos. Not the misprint kind, but the kind editing should catch. I found split sentence fragments and occasional sentences where it began and ended with the same clause. (ex. “He went to the market because he wanted to buy some bread, so he went to the market.”) It was probably just missed in editing, but it yanked me out of the story.
True crime fans, mystery and thriller lovers