Book Bag: ‘Vermeer Tango’ by Rob Chirico; ‘Indivisible: Global Leaders on Shared Security’ by Interlink Books

Published: 6/27/2019 3:26:36 PM


By Rob Chirico

On March 18, 1990, two men posing as police officers bluffed their way into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, tied up two nighttime security guards, and proceeded to make off with 13 works of art worth an estimated $500 million, including “The Concert,” one of only 34 paintings attributed to Johannes Vermeer, the acclaimed 17th-century Dutch painter. In terms of overall value, it’s considered the largest theft of private property in history.

None of the works, including two paintings by Rembrandt, has never been recovered, despite long investigations by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

In “Vermeer Tango,” Greenfield writer and painter Rob Chirico picks up the story 20 years later in a novel that imagines “The Concert” may be about to resurface, and which also takes a rather withering look at the prevalence of forgeries in the art world and the cunning, unscrupulous dealers who sell the fakes to naive clients.

At the center of the novel is Max Brand, a Washington, D.C. bartender who is also something of a polymath, with a background in art history and conservation, languages, the Peace Corps and other areas (he’s also something of a stand-in for Chirico, who’s a former art history teacher and bartender himself). Max has a sardonic world view, too, seen when a Kentucky congressman, Kyle Morton, asks him in his bar one night why he didn’t stick to a career in art conservation since “from what I hear it’s a pretty lucrative business.”

“If you can put up with pretentious collectors, bombastic museum curators, and know-it-all art historians, it’s just rosy,” responds Max.

Kyle’s questions aren’t idle ones. He’s tied into an investigation of stolen art works, including some of those that were lifted from the Gardner Museum, and he wants to recruit Max to be part of a potential sting operation in Buenos Aires, Argentina to nab what could be the stolen Vermeer painting. One catch: the art appraiser Max will be working with in the operation is his ex-wife, Julie.

Meantime, a second storyline follows a shady Argentinian art dealership that sells fine reproductions, particularly those of 17th and 18th century European art. Trouble is, the dealers’ clients are “not aware of that peccadillo” — the buyers think they’re getting originals. And to further these scams, the dealership’s two principals recruit an expert forger, Eric Zorn, to create some more fakes — and to clean up and restore the now-battered “The Concert” by Vermeer.

But Zorn eventually discovers his employers are ripping him off, giving him far less than what he thought he was promised for his work, and he takes off to his studio in Buenos Aires with the Vermeer with his own plans to sell it.

Meantime, Max, masquerading as a visiting bartender in a Buenos Aires hotel, is teamed up with a private investigator, a former trustee of the Gardner Museum, and Julie, his ex-wife, as they attempt to track the Vermeer through, as book notes put it, “the seductive, and often sinister, city of Buenos Aires.”

Chirico, a freelance writer who has authored a number of other books, including a history of swearing in America (“Damn!”), has also been inspired in his own painting by the work and techniques of Dutch master painters. He brings that knowledge to “Vermeer Tango,” making the novel, aside from its engaging storyline, a basic primer on art conservation and techniques, as well as the art world’s seamy side of forgery and double dealing.


Edited by Ru Freeman and Kerri Kennedy

Olive Branch Press/Interlink Books

As the contributors to “Indivisible” see it, real security isn’t something that can be achieved by walls, armed forces, metal detectors and x-rays and other militarized means: It has to come from concerted efforts of peacebuilding, commitment to listening and understanding others and building lasting relationships.

In “Indivisible: Global Leaders on Shared Security,” published by Interlink Books of Northampton, more than 40 global leaders and activists contribute essays on what’s needed to build security and peace around the world. Contributors include Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, award-winning Irish fiction writer Colum McCann, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Jayathma Wickramanayake, a 28-year-old Sri Lankan politician currently serving as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.

In essays that touch on security issues particular to specific areas of the world, the contributors argue for what one writer, Joyce Ajlouny, secretary of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) calls “shared security” — an acknowledgement that “In our increasingly interconnected world, our security is equally joined. For security to become a reality for all, we need to collectively achieve freedom from fear and want … and recognize our shared responsibility to achieve it.”

Ru Freemam, a Sri Lankan-American writer and one of the editors of this collection, says she’s impressed in particular with many of the younger contributors to the book, several of whom have already worked for peace in Sudan, Palestine, the Central African Republic and other places of conflict.

The book, Freeman notes, collects “under one roof, as it were, those who do their work often in states of exhaustion, with dwindling resources, and ever more confined public spaces, but who still believe in the better nature of their fellow human beings, and themselves.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at







Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


Copyright © 2019 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy