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Showing posts by: Lance Charnes click to see Lance Charnes's profile
Feb 9 2018 3:00pm

On the Sidewalks of New York: Why You Should Be Watching TNT’s The Alienist

When people think of 19th-century serial killers, they tend to start and stop with Jack the Ripper. A few will mention Chicago’s H. H. Holmes, but that’s about the end of it. These two either called attention to themselves (Jack) or got caught (Holmes), ensuring their places in true-crime history.

But who’s to say there weren’t more serial killers plying their trade in Gilded Age America? That the police at the time didn’t know (or care) to look for them until psychology and technology married law enforcement and gave birth to forensic science?

That’s what The Alienist is all about. Based on Caleb Carr’s blockbuster 1994 novel of the same name, it’s a 10-episode TNT original series that could be described as “Ragtime meets Silence of the Lambs.”

[Read more about The Alienist!]

Jan 18 2018 2:00pm

Spear Phishing in the Desert: Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner & Samuel M. Katz

Harpoon: Inside the Covert War against Terrorism’s Money Masters by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner & Samuel M. Katz is a revelatory account of the cloak-and-dagger Israeli campaign to target the finances fueling terror organizations—an effort that became the blueprint for U.S. efforts to combat threats like ISIS and drug cartels.

When we read “Israel” and “counterterrorism” in the same sentence, we usually think of what the military calls “going kinetic”—a silenced .22, cell-phone bombs, Hellfires, invading Lebanon, that kind of thing. But there’s more than one way to skin a camel. Just like everything else, money makes terrorism go ‘round, and when the money stops, so does the music.

That, in a nutshell, is what Harpoon: Inside the Covert War against Terrorism’s Money Masters is all about. Israeli civil-rights attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and co-author Samuel M. Katz give us an inside-ish look at a years-long Mossad operation targeting the banks, money-changers, and paymasters who keep the Benjamins flowing to the welter of terrorist organizations elbowing each other in the Middle East.

Suicide bombers have been called “the poor man’s cruise missile,” but they’re not free. People have to be paid to recon the targets and recruit the bomber. They have to pay for safe houses, vehicles, the parts to make the bomb, and the specialist to build it. Once the bomber has self-detonated, the organization is on the hook for pension payments to his family.

[Read Lance Charnes's review of Harpoon...]

Jan 15 2018 12:00pm

Review: The Night Market by Jonathan Moore

The Night Market by Jonathan Moore is a mind-bending, masterfully plotted near-future thriller that makes your most paranoid fantasies seem like child’s play (available January 16, 2018).

What’s “near-future noir” mean to you? Does it sound like what happens if Philip K. Dick edits a Raymond Chandler novel? If so, you have an idea of what Jonathan Moore’s The Night Market is about.

Hardboiled San Francisco PD Inspector Ross Carver is investigating a possible murder scene featuring a truly ugly-dead (i.e., dissolving) victim when he and his partner, Cleve Jenner, are jumped by moon-suited FBI agents. The Men in Tyvek shoot up the two cops with something that’s supposed to keep them from becoming equally ugly-dead but also knocks them out.

Carver can’t remember what happened when he wakes up in bed two days later feeling like he went six rounds with a Mack truck. Another surprise: Mia Westcott—until now, merely the pretty neighbor-lady—is reading to him. Mia feeds Carver a story that launches him into trying to recover those lost days. Needless to say, Carver, Jenner, and Mia end up diving into the deep end of a vast, subterranean conspiracy that threatens the existence of free will and memory itself.

[Read Lance Charnes's review of The Night Market...]

The Romanian Connection: The Kunsthal Rotterdam Heist


At 3:20 a.m. on October 16, 2012, the Trigion Security control center dispatched two guards to investigate an alarm trip at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam’s Museumpark. While Trigion supplied onsite guards for the art museum’s visiting hours, after closing, the museum made do with visits by roving security patrols.

By the time the guards arrived, the Rotterdam police were on the scene. They’d walked the perimeter but hadn’t seen anything. The guards entered and found that the alarm belonged to a rear fire exit. When they turned on the lights, they noticed several empty spots on the display partitions near the door.

The Kunsthal—a striking Modernist pavilion designed by rock-star Dutch architect Rem Koolhass, opened in 1992—is a museum without a collection. It hosts traveling exhibitions and displays works lent by collectors and other institutions. The exhibit in the Kunsthal had opened only nine days before. The guards knew there were lots of possible reasons for paintings to be off-display, only one of which was worth getting spun up about. Instead of reporting a theft, they waited for someone in the museum administration to come look things over.

[Read more about the masterpieces that were stolen!]

Nov 12 2017 10:00am

Lance Charnes Excerpt: Stealing Ghosts

Lance Charnes

Stealing Ghosts by Lance Charnes is the second book in the DeWitt Agency Files series (available November 17, 2017).

Dorotea DeVillardi is 91 years old, gorgeous, and worth a fortune. Matt Friedrich's going to steal her.

The Nazis seized Dorotea's portrait from her Viennese family, then the Soviets stole it from the Nazis. Now it's in the hands of a Russian oligarch. Dorotea's corporate-CEO grandson played by the legal rules to get her portrait back, but he struck out. So he's hired the DeWitt Agency to get it for him - and he doesn't care how they do it.

Now Matt and Carson, his ex-cop partner, have to steal Dorotea's portrait from a museum so nobody knows it's gone, and somehow launder its history so the client doesn't have to hide it forever. The client's saddled them with a babysitter: Dorotea's granddaughter Julie, who may have designs on Matt as well as the painting. As if this wasn't hard enough, it looks like someone else is gunning for the same museum—and he may know more about Matt and Carson's plans than he should.

Matt went to prison for the bad things he did at his L.A. art gallery. Now he has a chance to right an old wrong by doing a bad thing for the best of reasons. All he has to do is stay out of jail long enough to pull it off.

[Read an excerpt from Stealing Ghosts...]

Jun 15 2017 11:00am

The Fall of the House of Knoedler

Knoedler & Company began in 1846 as the Manhattan outpost of the French printmaker Goupil et Cie. It was America’s first storefront art gallery; it predated the Metropolitan Museum of Art by 24 years. During the Gilded Age, Knoedler moved from peddling inexpensive prints to dealing Old Master artworks to the likes of Vanderbilt, Morgan, and Frick.

By 1970, the new breed of robber barons had different tastes. Knoedler was in trouble. Oil tycoon Armand Hammer bought the place in 1971 and installed new management who made the leap to selling Modern art (roughly, Impressionism and its sequels to 1940). It also went back to its roots by selling original prints by LeRoy Neiman, who was huge back then.

The gallery began representing big-name artists such as Richard Diebenkorn and Robert Rauschenberg. Its age and reputation made it a go-to place for purchasing Modern and contemporary art. Being displayed in or represented by Knoedler could be a huge boost for an artist’s career.

[Read more about the fall of Knoedler...]

Mar 30 2017 2:00pm

Operation Antiquity: From Thailand with Love

A crowd gathered outside the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, on the morning of January 24, 2008. They weren’t museum junkies; they were federal agents raiding the place. By the end of the day, 500 FBI, IRS, and Customs agents had hit the Bowers and 12 other targets, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Diego’s Mingei International Museum, the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, the Silk Roads Design Gallery in Los Angeles, and Barry MacLean, a private collector in Chicago. In all, agents seized over 10,000 smuggled antiquities from Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, and China.

Rewind to the late 1970s.

Robert Olson, a former steel salesman, went to a friend’s wedding in Thailand. There, he bought some antique pottery from Ban Chiang, a Neolithic settlement in the country’s far northeast.

When he returned to Los Angeles, Olson decided to sell his 73-piece Native America ladle collection. He contacted Armand Labbé, the Bowers Museum’s chief curator, in 1979. Olson says Labbé offered to take half the ladles as a donation and would arrange for someone to buy the other half for $10,000. And, by the way, those Thai pots are nice—can you get more?

[Oh, the power of greed...]

Feb 9 2017 12:00pm

Gray Market: Crime and the Art Market by Riah Pryor

Crime and the Art Market by Riah Pryor brings together the author’s direct experience from both fields to present an accessible, informative, and realistic overview of art crimes in today’s society.

Art-related crime is a busy book genre these days. Most of these books are very specific—one case, one career, one theme—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a huge topic. What’s rare is a general survey of art-related crime that’s both serious and accessible.

That’s where Riah Pryor’s newish book Crime and the Art Market comes in. It delves into the underpinnings of the collision between, yes, crime and the art market, looking at the assumptions we’ve come to be comfortable with and asking sometimes sticky questions about the whos, whys, and hows.

[Read Lance Charnes's review of Crime and the Art Market...]

Nov 7 2016 9:00am

The Collection: New Excerpt

Lance Charnes

The Collection by Lance Charnes is an art thriller and the 1st book in the DeWitt Agency Files series (Available November 14, 2016). 

Four years ago, what Matt Friedrich learned at work put him in prison. Yesterday, it earned him a job. Tomorrow, it may kill him.

Matt learned all the angles at his old Los Angeles gallery: how to sell stolen art, how to “enhance” a painting’s history, how to help buyers hide their purchases from their spouses or the IRS. He made a load of money doing it—money he poured into the lawyer who worked a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney. Matt’s out on parole and hopelessly in debt with no way out ... until a shadowy woman from his past recruits him to find a cache of stolen art that could be worth millions.

Now Matt’s in Milan, impersonating a rich collector looking for deals. He has twenty days to track down something that may not exist for a boss who knows a lot more than she’s telling. He’s saddled with a tough-talking partner who may be out to screw him and up against a shady gallerist whom Matt tried to send to prison. His parole officer doesn’t know he’s left the U.S. Worse yet, what Matt’s looking for may belong to the local branch of the Calabrian mafia.

Matt’s always been good at being bad. If he’s good enough now, he gets a big payday with the promise of more to come. But one slip in his cover, one wrong word from any of the sketchy characters surrounding him, could hand Matt a return trip to jail ... or a long sleep in a shallow grave.

[Read an excerpt from The Collection...]

Oct 27 2016 11:00am

Van Gogh Goes to Italy: Oil and Cocaine Do Mix

In December 2002, two burglars broke into the Vincent van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. They didn’t use helicopters or lasers or any of the stuff art thieves use in the movies; they climbed a fifteen-foot ladder to the roof and got into the second floor (European first floor), where the main display halls are. They tripped alarms, but the police didn’t respond. When they busted a window and slid down a rope to get to the ground, they had souvenirs: two van Gogh oils.

Both came from early in van Gogh’s artistic career. He created View of the Sea at Scheveningen, his only surviving seascape, in 1882 after only a year of practice at painting. Two years later, he gave Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuene (where his father was pastor) to his mother to amuse her after she’d broken her leg. Because they were such early works and showed van Gogh’s development as an artist, they were considered especially valuable … but apparently not valuable enough to insure. Eventually, the figure $100 million got attached to them, but it’s anyone’s guess.

[It's not very easy to sell stolen art on eBay...]

Oct 12 2016 10:00am

One Giant Gomorrah to Destroy

Gomorrah (Picador Press) is Roberto Saviano’s bestselling account of the Camorra’s audacious corruption of Naples and beyond in the 1990s and 2000s.

In December 1991, Giuseppe (Don Peppino) Diana, the doomed parish priest of the Neapolitan suburb of Casal di Principe, published an open letter to his parishioners called “For the Love of My People I Will Not Stay Silent.”

The Camorra today is a form of terrorism that arouses fear and imposes its own laws in an attempt to become an endemic element of Campania society. Weapons in hand, the Camorristi violently impose unacceptable rules: extortions that have turned our region into subsidized areas with no potential on their own for development; bribes of 20 percent or more on construction projects, which would discourage the most reckless businessman; illicit traffic in narcotics, whose use creates gangs of marginalized youngsters and unskilled workers at the beck and call of criminal organizations… veritable laboratories of violence and organized crime.

Don Peppino’s outspokenness eventually killed him in 1994. As in “Eleanor Rigby,” no one was saved.

[Read more about the book that spawned the TV series Gomorrah...]

Aug 31 2016 1:00pm

Crime Under the Volcano: Introducing Gomorrah

Naples is one of the oldest continuously-occupied cities in the world, but it’s mostly known for three things: pizza (most of the pizza we eat is Neapolitan-style), Mt. Vesuvius, and being perhaps the most spectacularly corrupt city in Italy. This last is quite an accomplishment, something like being the tallest man in the NBA. As you might expect for such a place, Naples has its very own mafia—the Camorra, which has been around for so long that no one knows exactly when it started.

Americans are used to the Sicilian mafia, which gained prominence during Prohibition and spawned slews of movies and TV series. They’ve mostly never heard of the Camorra. The Sundance Channel aims to fix this by importing the most popular series on current Italian TV: Gomorrah.

[Read more about your newest TV obsession...]

Jul 14 2016 1:30pm

She’s Gonna Make It After All: Queen of the South

In 1970, TV gave us the tale of a spunky, single young woman who moves to the big city and finds career success, friendship, and love, while rising through a cutthroat business and having to navigate the many men in her work and private lives. Her name was Mary, and there’s now a statue of her tossing her cap into the air in downtown Minneapolis.

Now, we have another story of another spunky, single young woman who moves to the big city and finds career success, friendship, and love, while rising through a cutthroat business and navigating the many men in her work and private lives. This time, her name is Teresa, the city is Dallas, and I sincerely doubt she’ll ever get a statue. The business is drug trafficking, not TV news (wait—there’s a difference?), and while they’re both brunettes, Teresa is the anti-Mary.

Queen of the South is a USA Network original series, based loosely on the successful telenovela La Reina del Sur, which, in turn, was based on the bestselling novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. At heart, it’s a Horatio Alger story for the 21st Century, with a much higher body count.

[Read more about Queen of the South...]

Jul 7 2016 12:00pm

Elementary, Rembrandt: Reviewing The Scientist and the Forger by Dr. Jehane Ragai

The Scientist and the Forger by Dr. Jehane Ragai outlines the advanced forensic techniques being developed to help thwart art forgery.

If you’ve watched CSI or any of the other TV forensic procedurals, you know that science has jumped into the crime-solving pool with both feet. Advances in DNA analysis, latent-print recovery, forensic botany, and a host of other processes have helped clear decades-old cold cases, exonerate the wrongly accused, and catch villains who would’ve escaped just a few years ago. Your average big-city detective would now no more leave her criminalist at the station than she would her sidearm or badge.

Science has gone boho to help answer one of the thornier questions in art: is that painting real? This is the story Dr. Jehane Ragai tells us in The Scientist and the Forger: Insights into the Scientific Detection of Forgery in Paintings.

Art forgery has been a problem since Roman workshops started making knockoffs of Greek statues two thousand years ago. Until relatively recently, though, detecting fakes has been the sole province of art connoisseurs, who could make a piece worthless or priceless with an opinion—even if that opinion turned out to be wrong.

[Read Lance Charnes's review of The Scientist and the Forger...]

Jun 30 2016 3:30pm

Hairy-raising: Cleverman

We Homo sapiens have gotten pretty used to being the only humanoid species on Earth. So, what would happen if we somehow ran across a cousin species—perhaps a somewhat better design? What if that species also happened to be dark-skinned? It doesn’t take much brainpower to write that scenario; we’ve got 5,000 years of experience in intra-species cruelty and oppression to draw from. Now, how would it go if an indigenous superhero took up that cousin species’ cause?

That’s Cleverman, a joint production by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Sundance Studios that debuted June 1st on the Sundance Channel.

[What a clever]

Jun 13 2016 1:00pm

Locks and the City: Reviewing A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh

A Burglar's Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh encompasses nearly 2,000 years of heists and tunnel jobs, break-ins and escapes, offering an unexpected blueprint to the criminal possibilities in the world all around us.

We think we know how buildings work. You pass through doors, look through windows, hang pictures on walls, walk on floors, and ignore ceilings (unless they leak).

Burglars have different ideas. They ignore doors, pass through walls, hang pictures on windows, walk on ceilings, and cut through floors. They subvert the very notion of a building; theirs is an architectural crime.

That’s the thesis of Geoff Manaugh, author of A Burglar’s Guide to the City—where architectural criticism collides with true-crime reporting. He believes that burglary is nothing less than a radical reinterpretation of structure and urban design.

[Read Lance Charnes's review of A Burglar's Guide to the City...]

Jun 7 2016 2:30pm

No, No, Bad Cat: The Last Panthers

“The past is never dead. It's not even past.”
-William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

The series of brutal civil wars that tore apart the Balkans between 1991 and 2001 left behind some 140,000 dead, another four million displaced, and ruined cities throughout the former Yugoslavia. The economic and social consequences still echo today. Few in the West can hear them.

The Last Panthers, a six-part Sundance series that ended on May 18th, is in many ways a war story as well as a crime thriller. Most of its principal characters were molded, scarred, or crippled by the Yugoslav wars. The corruption, gangster activity, and casual murder they practice now are continuations of the tactics employed by all sides twenty years ago. The Balkans have never been a happy place; they look particularly bleak in this series.

[Read Lance Charnes's wrap up of The Last Panthers...]

May 31 2016 3:00pm

Your Room Is Ready: Reviewing The Night Manager Miniseries

If you’ve made your name writing about Cold War espionage, what do you do when the Cold War ends? If you’re John le Carré, you take a vacation, and then you turn your attention to all the other bad subterranean business in the world.

The Night Manager was le Carré’s first post-Soviet novel, showing that old dogs can still bite. Two film companies tried and failed to adapt the book for theaters. The BBC and AMC succeeded: their six-episode adaptation of The Night Manager gives the story room to breathe.

[Read more about The Night Manager...]

Apr 19 2016 1:00pm

In the (Pale) Pink: The Last Panthers

They really existed, you know. The Pink Panthers.

The Panthers were a confederation of Balkan thieves, many with military experience in the Bosnian and Kosovar wars of the 90s, who in 2000 started pulling off hundreds of audacious heists around the world. The Daily Mail gave them the name after they hit Graff Diamonds for £23 million in what was then the biggest jewel heist in British history. The thieves would disappear into the shadows in Serbia or Montenegro and live quietly with the complicity of corrupt or suborned local officials. Then in the late 2000s, INTERPOL formed the Pink Panther Working Group, the police agencies of Europe started sharing information, and the lure of EU membership inspired various Balkan states to crack down on their wayward sons and daughters. The old guard is mostly gone, now, replaced by a new generation that isn’t so careful, or skilled, or slick.

The Last Panthers, a British/French co-production, is about this changing of the guard, the ghosts of the past, and the bonds of family.

[“It's like you are some angel of death.”]

Apr 11 2016 4:00pm

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh NguyenThe Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen features a captivating, duplicitious narrator who's a communist sleeper agent living in America after the Vietnam War. Nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

While it’s likely that the Vietnam War spawned many bookshelves full of novels written by Vietnamese authors, an awfully small number of these are in English. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer is one of these, a mordant, discursive recounting of the South Vietnamese exile experience from the fall of Saigon to the early Reagan years.

  The unnamed narrator – The Captain – is a man of two faces and two minds, caught between two worlds. Born in the North to a French priest and a Viet teenager, he goes to college in America, then returns to his homeland to support the North in the endless Vietnamese civil war. He becomes an aide to The General, the acting head of the South’s secret police, helping arrest and torture alleged communist spies while he sends secrets to the real communist spies he works for. When Saigon goes down for the count, The Captain’s handler orders him to go to America to keep tabs on The General and his entourage.

[Read Lance Charnes' review of The Sympathizer now!]