Idiot’s Guide to Thriller Art Heists

on May 24, 2010 in Misc

I’m beginning to wonder if I’m wasting my time getting into the kind of shape Layla is in. 

You know what I mean – painfully stretching my limbs in every direction, building my upper body strength, doing crazy-ass parkour workouts so that, like Layla, I could theoretically do second- and third-story heist jobs in places that seem nearly impossible to get into.  Of course this skill set also entails lock picking talents and advanced abilities to jam or disable electronic security systems.

 parker pipes

After all, I reasoned, this tough skill level is what’s needed for my lead character to do her job in my novel.

That’s why there’s no way I would write the following scene for Layla.  It’s embarrassingly simplistic, couldn’t possibly happen in real life, and is unthinkable in our high-tech world of modern security. 

Scenario:   In the middle of the night, a single masked thief goes to the great Paris Museum of Modern Art.  He wants to steal a Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, Braque, and Léger.  These five paintings are together worth maybe two hundred million dollars. 

Museum doors

How does he get into this fortress-seeming marble building in the middle of a busy city?  By merely 1) breaking through a glass window on the ground floor, then 2) smashing a padlock on a grille door.  That done, he takes the paintings, exits the building through the broken window, and once outside removes them from their frames and leaves the frames behind.   His theft is captured on the museum’s security cameras, which means at least one of the three guards in the building that night should have seen him on the monitors; but either the guards weren’t doing their jobs or one of them had been bribed by the thief.

For an absurdly convenient coincidence, the alarm system in the particular gallery where those paintings hung has been broken for over six weeks.  The security system operator ordered spare parts to fix it but hasn’t yet received them from the supplier.

Art police

And here’s the real clincher:  this heist will turn out to be the most costly in the history of French art.

What a ludicrous scenario!  How low brow!  Any thriller novelist or Hollywood screenwriter who churned out such unimaginative crap instead of a labyrinthine plot would be forced out of the profession and have to take up professional bowling instead.

And this is what’s driving me crazy because THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK!

That’s right.  Some burly guy who clearly wasn’t in the best shape broke into the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and pulled off the heist of the twenty-first century.

His extraordinary feat was a plain and simple smash-and-grab.

And that’s not all.  One British newspaper I read online listed some of the greatest art heists of the last couple decades.  Details were scant, but at least a few of them seemed to be more simple smash-and-grabs, while my favorite one was this:  “A $65 million Leonardo da Vinci painting was stolen from Drumlanrig Castle in southern Scotland after two men joined a public tour and overpowered a guide.”  Are you shitting me?

And simple, brain-dead but lucrative heists aren’t restricted to the art world.  In April The New Yorker had an in-depth article about the “Pink Panthers” – the large, fluid group of thieves, most of them from Kosovo and Serbia, who have pulled off dozens of jewel thefts around the world that total in the tens of millions of dollars.   How do these daring thieves pull off their now legendary heists?

You got it.  Smash-and-grabs.

It’s enough to make me say to hell with writing and take up professional bowling.

6 Responses to “Idiot’s Guide to Thriller Art Heists”

  1. Hart says:

    Sort of nuts, isn’t it. We go to all the effort to figure out the RIGHT way and some thug comes along and proves all you really need is to be ballsy and lucky. Hmph. I love the contrast you’ve got here though.

    I have an award for you over at my blog today…

  2. Helena says:

    Hart – Ballsy and lucky indeed. Sometimes we members of the female persuasion are too subtle. Time for Layla to toughen up!
    And I can’t thank you enough for my first-ever BLOG AWARD. (YAY!) I’m thrilled and honored and right back at ya and for your fun, intelligent, ever fascinating blog CONFESSIONS OF A WATERY TART (check it out, people!). If my blog ever grows up, it wants to be just like yours.

  3. Robert L. Read says:

    Don’t despair Helena. It takes much more skill to, for example, steal the Shroud of Turin and replace it with a facsimile undeteced, as I did back in ’84.

  4. Helena says:

    Robert – Yeah, those nuns make for some tough body guards. So what have you done with the original?

  5. Robert L. Read says:

    If you sleep under the shroud, you never grow older. That’s why I’m 45 and only look 43.

  6. Helena says:

    Robert — I am so jealous.