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June 3, 2014

Kirsten Hower reviews Rick Gekoski's book "Lost, Stolen or Shredded: Stories of Missing Works of Art and Literature" in the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

Rare book dealer Rick Gekoski's published his book on loss in art and literature with Profile Books in 2013. Kirsten Hower, ARCA's Social Networking Correspondent and List-Serve Manager, begins her review:
It starts with the theft of a mysterious smile and ends with the unbuilt architectural wonders of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Rick Gekoski, a rare book dealer and writer, brings together the worlds of art and literature to explore their hidden pasts. Often kept separate when discussing the arts—the exception being illuminated manuscripts—in his book Gekoski groups them together in considering their dark and hidden pasts. There is, understandably, a bias towards literature in the text, but not enough to detract from the tales concerned with works of art. 
“I am anxious about the destruction of the historical record. We live, understand and accumulate a sense of ourselves as a culture through the preservation of the pieces of paper that record what we truly are, and have been.” (p 120) 
Rather than taking a purely academic and stiff approach to recounting the tales of his chosen works of both art and literature, Gekoski instead takes the more passionate and narrative approach of a storyteller chronicling his favourite stories. In this way, Gekoski’s book acts more like an anthology of crime stories rather than a diatribe concerning art crime. The story of each work of art and literature, ranging from the nearly infamous theft of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa by Vincenzo Perugia in 1911 to the almost non-existent poem Et Tu, Healy by a very young James Joyce, is told with the detail, suspense, and passion of a novel. Gekoski’s attention to detail and ability to bring each tale to life makes his book an easy and enjoyable read for readers with or without a background in art or literary crime. 
An additional intrigue to this book is Gekoski’s ability to look at the loss of literary works from the perspective of a book lover who is saddened by the cultural loss as well as the rare book dealer who can see the monetary loss of each work. This intriguing dual perspective adds an interesting twist to narratives that could have instead been dripping in patronizing rhetoric; instead, Gekoski’s narration brings both a practical and intimate nature to the tales he recounts. Each of the crimes he recounts carry both of these tones and draw the reader further into the tale.
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