This novel opens with the theft of The Scream from the Munch Museum in Oslo on 22nd August, 2004, that much is based on fact. What happened next is still shrouded in mystery. Carter has used that mystery and his fecund imagination to create an enjoyable fictional account of that event. Three men in an Audi pull up outside the Munch Museum, black ski masks/black clothes. Inside the museum the men threaten the guard, he drops the telephone he is about to use to contact the police, at least one of the men is armed. They make their way down the hall to the room with the painting they want, The Scream. The first man fails to break the security wire while trying to grab the painting but one of his companions rips it from the wall. The last man grabs another painting and they get out. They throw the paintings into the boot of the car and head off. It’s dramatic, violent and fast. For now, there endth the seriousness. This is a comic crime caper that mashes a couple of real events to produce an original take on the art heist. Tension relaxed, this develops into a quirky, funny, slightly farcical comedy played out in the imagined build up to the robbery. I’m not going to lie to you but I’m not going to tell your the whole truth either. There’s more going on here than meets the eye but I don’t want to spoil the surprise, it’s a big part of the fun here. Let me just say, there’s a clever twist, Stealing the Scream is a jaunty and page turning read.
New Yorker Percival Davenport, CEO Diacom, sixty-three, has had enough. When he gets to the seventy-fifth floor, the company HQ, anxiety sets in. He can’t remember the new receptionist’s name, she smiles anyway. The board meeting is set for 5pm, that gives him the whole day to prepare his resignation. He muses on the reasons he should give; fear of the receptionist, the hot-dog vendor who calls him Jeffe every morning, etc. Perhaps he should stick to a more sombre tone, it’s been a great privilege, blah, blah, goodbye:
“When I became CEO of Diacom seven years ago, we were precariously perched upon a precipice.”
“Oh, Jesus,” sighed Watterson. Either he knew what was coming or he didn’t like the alliteration.
Percival’s ex-wife, Laura, still keeps in tabs on him, they have a daughter. Lucinda, ex-actress, has been Percival’s house manager (that’s a thing in Westchester) for fifteen years. The pay is much better than the stage. Percival is a bit irascible but she knows how to handle him; they’re close getting closer? Will she/they survive his retirement?
A trip to MOMA gives Percival a new purpose in life – art. He takes up painting, naturally as any rich man would, he gets a truck load of supplies delivered to his house. Then he decides to move to London, well Cobham, bigger house with a studio. Percival hires a personal tutor, a teacher all the way from California. He works at it eight hours a day, he’s really not bad, in fact, he’s quite good. After a few months his instructor tells him he’s taught him all he can. When Percival asks what he should do next the tutor reply is sell.
Lucinda sets up a stall at Portobello market but the weather scuppers that. Percival continues to visit galleries and then one day he gets an idea. Luckily, no one in corporate management gets by without a few shady contacts. Percival knows a man who knows a man who happens to be a burglar, a corporate espionage specialist, Red. Red has reached the stage in life when:
‘. . . his a preoccupation with his life’s direction exceeded his appetite for whiskey and tits.’
He’s no philosopher. Percival’s project (mostly the money) is made for Red, so he goes to London to see the former Diacom CEO. Percival has a list of museums and art galleries and a list of selected paintings. He instructs Red to make the first job the Smithsonian. Five months later they’ve hit eighteen museums and galleries across the world. When the break in at the Smithsonian comes to light, retired cop, now museum guard, Leonard starts his own little investigation into what happened. Meanwhile, Percival fancies a trip to Oslo, he wants to see The Scream.
In more than one way Percival Davenport wants to leave his mark on the art world, his plan is mad and audacious. The denouement is poetic and surprising. Maybe the comedy could have been a bit sharper but that’s a minor complaint. If you read the encomiums at the front of the book you’ll get a flavour of what’s to come, especially the “sort of” Latin praise for this novel.
Stealing the Scream is neat and well plotted, the seriousness that returns for the punchline has a blog of bite. This is an Imaginative and pacy story. A good way to spend a lazy afternoon, something different, a bit of intrigue and a laugh or two.
Paul Burke 3/3
Stealing the Scream by Theodore Carter
RunAmok Books 9781732709751 pbk Sep 2019