Stealing the Show – John Barelli

This was a fascinating book, full of thing I love, like tales of art and of the inner workings of my favorite museum. But it felt like it should have been at leas half again as long. Several of the stories – and there were more than six, as described in the title, and they weren’t all of thefts – felt unfinished. What happened to the Banksy? (All the Banksys, really.) Why did that truck crash? Did the author ever try to locate and interview any of the culprits he talks about, to gain more information and insight – as he did when preparing his doctorate?

Another thing that bothered me – no, two – were – first, the fact that, especially toward the end, every time the author spoke in high praise of someone, I knew that one of the next paragraphs would describe their death. He really did seem to interact with a lot of people just a little time before their deaths. I can’t blame him for name-dropping – it would be absurd to not tell those stories – but the overall effect was a bit ghoulish. Or indicative that he brought bad luck.

The second thing was an overriding sense, almost a smugness, of “If I had been in charge things would have gone better.” September 11 might not have involved so much loss of life – or might have been prevented, I daresay, if Mr. Barelli had had charge of airport security. Princess Diana might not have died if he’d been in charge of her security. I’m not saying that’s not true – some of the smugness seems to have been well-earned. He seems to have been excellent at his job. I just don’t think it’s too helpful to indulge in this kind of Monday morning quarterbacking, and it’s certainly not enjoyable to listen to. Nor is it what I signed up for in a book subtitled “A History of Art and Crime in Six Thefts”.

On the whole, I was glad of the book. I love the Met; I love New York. I love a behind-the-scenes look at the former – even when I come away a little depressed that record-keeping used to be so nonexistent they could mislay a couple of Degas sculptures as easily as I misplace my keys. The narration was inflectionless, which was perfect for telling this story. I want more.

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