I received a review copy of “The Heist Artist” by Vish Dhamija; courtesy – Writersmelon. This is the first time I am reading a book written by Vish Dhamija and he has been touted as India’s answer to John Grisham for some of his earlier books which were legal thrillers.
In ‘The Heist Artist’ – the action starts fast and the book is a quick page-turner that leaves you asking for more. The story narrates the adventures of a con-artist, his attempts to retrieve a missing Van Gogh painting, a cop pursuing the con-artist, a political goon who hired the con-artist in the first place, and some other assorted colourful characters. Our hero or anti-hero; however you choose to describe the primary character goes by the name ‘Captain’. He is a skilled con-artist who abhors violence and after an attempt to smuggle weapons goes wrong; he shifts to Banaras and is disguised as a sadhu. We are also given a brief flashback of sorts that tells us why the Captain has to take up a life of crime and it is quite convincing, akin to a thousand other stories in a similar vein, wherein a person has to take up to a life of crime to make ends meet.
The Captain is called upon by Udham Singh a politician/goon from Uttar Pradesh. He hands a task to the Captain telling him that a Van Gogh painting “Poppy Flowers” is in India and he gives him a list of four potential people who may have the painting with them. The Captain’s task is to identify the owner, steal the painting, and bring it safely to Udham. With a rich reward on offer, the Captain believes it is a one-time opportunity to make a massive pay-out and retire. With a generous advance from Udham, the Captain judiciously gets ready to find the painting. He disguises himself as a Professor of Art from France called Albert Reuben and teaches art in a leading institute in Delhi.
Here’s a bit of history about the painting, courtesy the “Museum of Stolen Art”:
“Poppy Flowers (also known as Vase and Flowers and Vase with Viscaria) is a painting by Vincent van Gogh with an estimated value of $50 million The painting, which is of a vase of yellow and red poppies, contrasted against a dark background is a reflection of Van Gogh’s deep admiration for Adolphe Monticelli, an older painter whose work influenced him when first he saw it in Paris in 1886. Egyptian officials erroneously believed they had recovered the painting only hours after its theft when two Italian suspects attempted to board a plane to Italy at Cairo International Airport. The same painting had been stolen from the same museum on June 4, 1977, and was recovered ten years later in Kuwait. The painting is small, measuring 65 x 54 cm, and depicts yellow and red poppy flowers. It is believed that van Gogh painted it in 1887, three years before his suicide.”
In this chaos, there is an incorruptible policeman who is on the hunt of the Captain and aims to bring him to justice. He tries to figure out where the Captain vanished after the botched attempt in smuggling weapons. The Professor/Captain manages to figure out the identity of the person who now holds the painting and by a weird twist of fate gets to see it and vouch its genuineness. Now that he knows where the painting is stored; it is owned by a millionaire/businessman Bipin; he plans the theft. When Udham is informed about this he plans to get the painting from the Captain and kill him. He assigns Sonia a former escort who now works for a detective agency to track the Captain’s activities; he also sends his henchman Damodar to ensure that the painting is stolen and brought to him perfectly.
What happens next? Is the painting stolen by the Captain, Sonia, and Damodar? Is the Captain killed by Udham and Damodar? What is Sonia’s role in the entire chain of events? Does the cop track down the Captain before the theft happens? If you want to find answers to all these questions; then you must pick up “The Heist Artist” by Vish Dhamija. It has all the ingredients for a blockbuster movie. Go for it, you won’t be disappointed.
You can buy the book from Amazon – https://www.amazon.in/Heist-Artist-Vish-Dhamija/dp/9353026024