This book claims that it is about "chasing thieves and detectives through the secret world of stolen art." And it does. What Joshua Knelman has really written about how easy it is to traffic in stolen art. The author starts by interviewing a known art thief going by the name "Paul." Paul explains how he started out in Brighton, England as a "knocker." He would basically knock on the front doors of peoples homes and ask if they wanted to sell him something, a painting, some silver or any other treasure. Once inside the house he would check out what items he could steal at a later date. Paul was very successful at this.
Knelman interviews art thieves, individuals who have had art stolen, museum officials and gallery owners about thefts and how they are handled. He goes into depth about the various art theft investigative squads that are now in existence through out the world and how the stolen items travel around the world in a matter of days, if not hours. The first investigative agence in the United States was in the Los Angeles police department. Then came INTERPOL, Scotland Yard, the FBI, Toronto police department and a squad in Quebec, Canada. There are also several international databases now in existence among then the Art Loss Register and one from INTERPOL called IFAR (International Foundation for Art research.)
It was surprising to me that it seems that there is very little oversight in the art world. Titles are not registered anywhere on a routine basis and alot of art is sold for cash. Considering the global fine art business is worth about $20 billion, in 2008, I couldn't believe it wasn't regulated. The figures for art theft from 2008 indicate that 16,000 pieces of art were registered as stolen or lost.
The book is an interesting one. It is populated by police and investigative characters who seem to genuinely want the art world regulated. It is also populated by those who want to keep things just as they are. If you want to learn about the dark side of the art world, this book is for you.