The book opens by letting readers know that Stephane Breitwieser is probably the most successful art thief that has ever lived. He has been captured and some of his stolen art recovered. Because we know what has been done and who did it at the very beginning, subtler questions become the subject of the book. The first question of how he accomplished art thefts across Europe on three of every four weekends for years on end. Second is why? Breitwieser never sold anything he stole. He simply stored it in his one room flat and adored it. Art, he said, brought him unfathomable joy. Evidently, so did theft.
But even subtler questions are on offer as this tight little book moves along. How is the value of art determined? If Breitwieser’s collection was worth upward of $2 billion, according to whom? If a private collector buys a rare masterpiece and hides it from the public in his bedroom is that so different from Breitwieser’s crimes? Most vexing of all is the definition of stolen art. Were Breitwieser’s thefts any more criminal than the British Museum’s acquisition of the Elgin Marbles or rare objects taken from Egypt’s tombs? Are millionaire collectors who fail to complete thorough investigations of an object’s provenance purchased from a dealer who might not have asked all the right questions any less culpable?