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Sunday, January 25, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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A Book a Week: The Irish Game by Matthew Hart

I like to read about art theft. There's something so Robin Hood-ish about stealing paintings from rich folks. Of course I do know it's wrong to steal. Art in museums belongs to everyone; I don't want anyone to steal my stuff, whether that stuff is in my living room or in the Smithsonian.

But the crimes at the center of this book are really something: not one, not two, not three, but four separate thefts of important paintings (a Vermeer, a Gainsborough, a Rubens) from Russborough House, an isolated manor house in the Republic of Ireland. Some of the attempts were more successful than others. One thief (who was also an underworld crime figure of some repute) held the paintings for three years. Other attempts were botched, such as the one in 2001 where the thieves drove a truck through the house's front door and were caught within two days.

This book has a little of everything: art crime, organized crime, the IRA, and the ways in which stolen art is used as collateral by bad guys in big drug transactions. In addition to the thefts at Russborough House, Hart tells the story of several other famous art heists (including the infamous robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston) and how they may or may not be connected to one another.

The book is a little hard to follow sometimes (too many characters, especially too many guys with Irish names) and it kind of meanders off somewhere about two-thirds of the way through. It also would have benefitted from more photos of the paintings in question. But still, it's pretty good, if you like this kind of thing, which obviously I do.

Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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