To Kingdom Come: A Review

A disclaimer to begin this review. I am not an “artsy-fartsy” kinda guy. The art exhibits to which I have been were all in the company of a woman. Half a century ago a young lady was accompanied to a place in San Francisco to see an exhibit of Maxfield Parrish

prabook.com

paintings. The experience is still indelibly etched into my memory. Blue has always been my favorite color and the vibrant blue hues of his paintings were amazing. The paintings found in books seem pale in comparison to seeing the paintings up close and personal.

https://www.sfheritage.org/news/palace-hotel-announces-removal-of-treasured-maxfield-parrish-painting/

Prior to the pandemic I read something about an author, Claudia Riess, “a Vassar graduate, has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt, Rinehart and Winston, and has edited several art history monographs,” who had written about the death of World Chess Champion Alexander Alekhine,

https://www.chesshistory.com/winter/extra/alekhine3.html

so I reached out only to learn Chess played a small role in the books she had already written, and was still writing. She sent me the first three books of a series of four books but they were misplaced during the pandemic. It was only years later the unopened package was discovered. After again contacting Claudia she sent the fourth book of the series, suggesting I review it first, as it is her latest effort in “An Art History Mystery” series. The title is, “To Kingdom Come.”

The first read was the last book of the series.

The truth is my taste in reading art books has been more along the lines of, The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft, by Ulrich Boser. Some years later I read another book concerning the heist, Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist, by Stephen Kurkjian. Then came, History’s Biggest Art Heist: The largest art theft in history remains unsolved after thieves stole 13 masterpieces worth $500 million from a Boston museum. So whodunit? by Christopher Klein (https://www.history.com/news/historys-biggest-art-heist-remains-unsolved). Years later another book about the heist was published, WHITEY’S HEIST: The BREAKING of the GARDNER MUSEUM WILL an ongoing ENTERPRISE, by Jeffrey Barrett.

At Amazon one finds: “James WHITEY Bulger gave me a Gardner Museum ART HEIST interview in Waikiki, Hawaii just one month before he was arrested in California. ONLY after my death can you release this true story. Harvard orchestrated the breaking of the Isabella Stewart Gardner WILL that stipulated if anything was moved taken or sold the entire paintings and collection would be given to Harvard to be sold at their discretion. Harvard made Gardner Museum broke and in disrepair a new WILL modified deal to save it from total ruination The Gardner Family especially John Gardner gladly agreed to the new Harvard Museums/Gardner Museum Collaboration. The theft from the Blue Room of Manet’s the Chez Tortani was a key deliberate act of the Gardener Museum ensuring they were deliberately involved in the selling of that one piece of art because the thieves never entered the Blue Room that evening.”

In addition, during these years I read an article, Stéphane Breitwieser: World’s Most Notorious Art Thief (https://pursuitmag.com/stephane-breitwieser-story-worlds-notorious-art-thief/), which was so interesting I read other articles about the art thief: The Secrets of the World’s Greatest Art Thief (https://www.gq.com/story/secrets-of-the-worlds-greatest-art-thief); and, Stephane Breitwieser: The Truth About The Art Thief Who Stole $1.4 Billion (https://www.grunge.com/478873/stephane-breitwieser-the-truth-about-the-art-thief-who-stole-1-4-billion/?utm_campaign=clip).

The latest article read on the subject was: The Case of the Disputed Lucian Freud: A collector thought he had bought a painting by the celebrated British artist. How far would he go to prove it? By Sam Knight
September 19, 2022. (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/09/26/the-case-of-the-disputed-lucian-freud)

This has been fascinating reading because, The Fake Art Industry Is Booming Online: From exhibition catalogue pages marketed as original prints to brazenly fake “authorized” copies of Harings and Warhols, we’re living in a golden age of art piracy, by Chris Cobb September 28, 2022 (https://hyperallergic.com/764867/the-fake-art-industry-is-booming-online/)

Caveat Emptor. One of the things learned is that it is extremely difficult to prosecute art thieves because it is difficult to prove what was stolen was an original work. As P.T. Barnum famously said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

With a background like that it should be obvious why I would look forward to reading “An Art History Mystery.”

To Kingdom Come is a very well written, and researched, book that flowed, and it was a pleasure to read. I will admit it became obvious there was some difficulty in keeping the players straight in my memory. An earlier article read stated, “One early indicator of memory issues, according to Dr. Restak, is giving up on fiction. “People, when they begin to have memory difficulties, tend to switch to reading nonfiction,” he said. “Over his decades of treating patients, Dr. Restak has noticed that fiction requires active engagement with the text, starting at the beginning and working through to the end. “You have to remember what the character did on Page 3 by the time you get to Page 11,” he said. (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/06/well/mind/memory-loss-prevention.html)

That sounded like me. I therefore decided to associate each different character with someone previously known, so that when they popped up again all that had to be done was to “see” the character in my mind. It worked for me…

The review will begin with what can be found at Amazon:

“Amateur sleuths, Erika Shawn-Wheatley, art magazine editor, and Harrison Wheatley, art history professor, attend a Zoom meeting of individuals from around the globe whose common goal is to expedite the return of African art looted during the colonial era. Olivia Chatham, a math instructor at London University, has just begun speaking about her recent find, a journal penned by her great-granduncle, Andrew Barrett, an active member of the Royal Army Medical Service during England’s 1897 “punitive expedition” launched against the Kingdom of Benin.

Olivia is about to disclose what she hopes the sleuthing duo will bring to light when the proceedings are disrupted by an unusual movement in one of the squares on the grid. Frozen disbelief erupts into a frenzy of calls for help as the group, including the victim, watch in horror the enactment of a murder videotaped in real time.

It will not be the only murder or act of brutality Erika and Harrison encounter in their two-pronged effort to hunt down the source of violence and unearth a cache of African treasures alluded to in Barrett’s journal.

Much of the action takes place in London, scene of the crimes and quest for redemption.” (https://www.amazon.com/Kingdom-Come-Art-History-Mystery-ebook/dp/B09Z1KFNB4/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8)

Amazon shows seven reviews of the book but only three are given, each from the United States. All three reviews are given five stars, and were written by women. The other reviews, with either four, or three stars, are from elsewhere in the world but are not shown. None of the reviews were read. To the book:

A fellow named Harrison is married to a woman, Erika, and they have a young child. Erika is the star of the book, which would have made Mother, who read all of the Perry Mason books, happy. It was obviously a man’s world ‘back in the day’ and the only woman was the secretary, Della Street. If Claudia had been writing the Perry Mason books Della would have solved the crimes.

The most disconcerting thing written in the book came out of nowhere when Harrison asks, “Erika, am I losing you?”

This was simply a non sequitur, as it came out of the blue and was totally unnecessary, other than to confirm the woman was in control and her husband nothing but ancillary. The author has turned the husband into an insecure wimp for no reason whatsoever.

“The question was an explosion, yet delivered so softly, it was as if she knew she’d been shot, but not in what part of her body.
Am I, Erika?”
She climbed back into bed and moved his laptop aside. “Where did that come from? How can you ask – how can you think that?”
“I don’t know. You have it all. Your career, our child, your breakthrough ideas, your fawning detective, lapping up your every word. What do you need me for? An occasional roll in the hay?”
She could not help laughing. Higher pitched than her usual laugh. “First of all, where did you come up with that dated expression? Second, where do you come off calling it occasional?”
“I’m serious.”
“So am I.” She was giddy, on the verge of tears. “This is coming out of nowhere. You know I love you – need you, Harrison. You fulfill me.”

Reading the above caused bile to rise up in my throat making me want to HURL!

It also caused me to wonder if that made it qualify for “Chick Lit,” which has, according to some, “fallen out of fashion with publishers while writers and critics have rejected its inherent sexism.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chick_lit#cite_note-googlewordcount-1) Has it become de rigeur for the male to be included only to protect and support the female? The pendulum has swung the other way and women are graduating from college in larger numbers than men (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/11/08/whats-behind-the-growing-gap-between-men-and-women-in-college-completion/). There has been a sea change in the number of female politicians over the past few decades. When coming of age often heard was a woman saying, “It’s a man’s world.” Has it become a “woman’s world?” I do not care to read about weak, insecure men. It is difficult to imagine Perry Mason and Paul Drake playing the parts of Harrison and John, the detective, while Della Street solves the case.

But wait, there’s more, unfortunately. Erika, who if you recall, is a young mother with a young child she has left behind in New York with not a family member, but a hired “nanny,” for who knows how long while she gallivants all over the world. From what is written it would have been much better if Harrison had been left behind in New York to care for the child because Erika is no team player as she goes off alone to catch someone who has already murdered at least once. The two men have no clue where the woman is because she gave them the slip. The book strains credulity.

After finishing the book I was left wondering… Then the page was turned and there were the “End Notes” and after reading I wondered no more as the notes brought it all together and answered the questions in my mind. The author informs the reader of how a “…reference to the Benin Bronzes sparked an idea for an art history mystery.” The author writes, “I read the reviews of books written on the Kingdom of Benin (in modern-day Nigeria!) and, more specifically, on the British “punitive expedition” of 1897, during which thousands of art and artifacts were seized from Benin City, a few in retaliation for an aggressive action that had occurred about a month earlier. Dan Hick’s The British Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution, appeared to be the most comprehensive coverage of the event and its surrounding history. I started my education with the Hicks book, and the sentence of his that most succinctly summed up the event and got my blood boiling was this:

“The sacking of Benin City in February 1897 was an attack on human life, on culture, on belief, on art, and on sovereignty.”

The author was not the only one with boiling blood. Everybody wants to rule the world. Might is right. There are untold spoils of war hidden deep in the vaults in Great Britain, and other countries, that were stolen from other countries. All of those ill-gotten gains should be returned to the countries of origin.

Paul Magriel R.I.P.

I learned of the death of Paul Magriel from the excellent blog of Grandmaster Kevin Spraggett (http://www.spraggettonchess.com/), in his ‘Trending Now’ section, ‘Chess in the News’. This led me to his obituary in the New York Times. These are excerpts:

Paul Magriel, Who Was Called the Best in Backgammon, Dies at 71

By Sam Roberts March 8, 2018

Paul Magriel,

a former youth chess champion who traded game boards to become known as the world’s best backgammon player, then turned to poker as his passion for gambling grew, died on Monday at his home in Las Vegas. He was 71.

After winning the New York State Junior Chess Championship at 19, Mr. Magriel (pronounced ma-GRILL) became fixated by backgammon, the 5,000-year-old dice-and-disk board game that combines luck, skill and speed.

Before the 1970s ended, Mr. Magriel had won the world backgammon championship and published what was acclaimed as the bible of backgammon. He was also writing a weekly column about the game for The New York Times.

In 1977, The Boston Globe described Mr. Magriel,

who by then had given up teaching math at a New Jersey college to play professionally, as “probably the best backgammon player in the world.”

His quirkiness and cunning gave backgammon currency.

“He was a big part of the reason for the backgammon boom that happened in the late ’70s and ’80s,” Erik Seidel, a stock trader who became a professional backgammon and poker player, said in an email.

Mr. Magriel could be philosophical on the subject of games. “Games are controlled violence,” he told Gambling Times magazine in 1978. “You can take out your frustrations and hostilities over a backgammon set, where the rules are clearly defined — in contrast to life, where the rules are not so well defined. In games, you know what’s right and wrong, legal versus illegal; whereas in life, you don’t.”

As a child, Paul was remembered as a savant who rarely answered questions and spoke only when he had something to say. After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and getting a perfect score on his college boards, he earned a bachelor’s degree in math from New York University. At. N.Y.U., he was a fellow of the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

He was later a National Science Foundation fellow at Princeton University, where he specialized in probability. He taught at the Newark College of Engineering (now part of the Newark Institute of Technology) from 1969 to 1973.

Mr. Magriel made his transition from chess to backgammon in Greenwich Village, at hangouts like the Olive Tree Cafe, while he was a doctoral student at Princeton and on track to become a math professor there.

“Psychologically, backgammon is very different from chess,” Mr. Magriel said. “It’s an exercise in frustration — you can make the right moves and lose, or you can make the wrong moves and win. And chess didn’t have the gambling that I like.”

For all his expertise in any game that required mental acuity, Mr. Magriel found backgammon to be “the most frustrating, the cruelest.”

“The fascinating thing about backgammon is that it represents an interesting paradox,” he told The Boston Globe in 1977, adding: “People who want a sure thing don’t make it in backgammon. There are risks, yes, but on the other hand there is an enormous amount of control needed, something most gamblers lack.”

With Ms. Roberts, he wrote the seminal “Backgammon” (1976)

and “Introduction to Backgammon: A Step-By-Step Guide” (1978). His Times column appeared from 1977 to 1980.

Wrote the Book on Backgammon

“When it came to games, Magriel loved them all. At just 19, he became the New York State Junior Chess Champion while studying at New York University, where he would graduate a year later with a BA in mathematics.

However, his real expertise was in backgammon, which is where he earned his “X-22” nickname. He was the 1978 World Backgammon Champion and co-wrote both “Backgammon,” still considered the game’s bible, and “An Introduction to Backgammon: A Step-By-Step Guide,” both published in 1976.

He was profiled in the New Yorker, which is where he explained how he came to be known as X-22.

“I used to play backgammon against myself and once I had a private tournament with 64 imaginary entrants, whom I designated X-l, X-2, and so forth, through X-64,” he said. “In the final, X-22 was pitted against X-34, and X-22 won.” (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1985/05/27/game-9)

Magriel, who wrote weekly backgammon columns for The New York Times from 1977-1980, was considered one of backgammon’s best teachers and thinkers. He is thought to have won the most major backgammon tournaments in the world.”
https://www.cardschat.com/news/rip-paul-magriel-backgammon-legend-known-as-x-22-dies-at-71-59717

Remembering Paul Magriel

“He was a math wizard, who loved numbers and relished the opportunity to solve complex puzzles. At night, he played games. During the day, he was a math instructor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he worked for seven years before deciding to finally put away the chalk and take up backgammon (and later poker playing) for a living, because the money was just too good a thing to pass up and there were plenty of suckers who wanted a game.

Back then, backgammon was a high-stakes web of rich people and cultural elites who gathered nightly at posh social clubs. Paul’s immersion onto that privileged scene, first in New York City then later around the world at the most exclusive resorts, was every bit as momentous as the indelible impact on games and gambling left by Ken Uston

and Stu Ungar,


The 1980 WSOP, where Stu won his first Main Event title, was also the first time he played Texas Hold’em. The Legendary Doyle Brunson is on the left.

every bit his contemporaries.”
http://www.nolandalla.com/remembering-paul-magriel/

RIP Paul Magriel: Backgammon Legend and Poker Player Known as X-22, “Quack, Quack,” Dies at 71
March 7th, 2018 by Chad Holloway

“To poker fans, Paul Magriel was the wild player who would often say, “Quack, quack.” What most don’t know is that Magriel, who died in his sleep on Monday at age 71, was to backgammon what Doyle Brunson

is to poker.”
https://www.cardschat.com/news/rip-paul-magriel-backgammon-legend-known-as-x-22-dies-at-71-59717

Although I never met Paul he had a HUGE on my life through his book. BACKGAMMON influenced me in the same way Chess Openings: Theory And Practice by I. A. Horowitz

influenced me in Chess.

About the time a new bar/restaurant named GAMMONS opened in the Peachtree-Piedmont shopping plaza in the Buckhead section of Atlanta his book was published. I spent the first week eating dinner after work and nursing a beer while watching the “action.” Those were the only alcoholic drinks ever consumed at GAMMONS. One night Steven Moffitt, a former junior Chess champion of Texas, entered. Steve was a professor of statistics and probabilities at Emory University at the time. We met in San Antonio in 1972 during the Church’s Fried Chicken Chess tournament. He greeted me warmly, asking if I would play a couple of speed Chess games. My reply was, “Only if they are fifteen minute games.” He smiled, and agreed. Steve was higher rated, but both games ended in hard fought draws. He had also come early from work and the sight of us playing Chess caused raised eyebrows as the regulars entered. Those two games were the only Chess games ever played at Gammons.

Steve mentioned a Backgammon book I needed to read. It was Paul Magriel’s book. As it turned out his advice was some of the best advice ever received in my life. I was not seen again at Gammons until the book was devoured. The first match I played at Gammons was with a regular, Rick Calhoun. I took a lead never relinquished. When time to pay Rick offered a check, which bounced. The next time I entered GAMMONS, I spotted Rick playing in a chouette, and walked straight to the table, whereupon I laid the rubber check, saying, “Make it right or step outside!” He did not have the money, but some of the other regulars produced the money, hoping to avoid any negative publicity. It was the only check I ever took from any Backgammon player.

Later Steve said they had wondered who was the fellow who came every night to watch. Knowing Steve told them I was a player. Calling Rick out said to them I was a player to be reckoned with…

During research for this post I found the following:

“I do not recommend this book to beginners. Yes, it was a masterpiece at the time it was written, and it is incredibly clear, but I rolled out the Advanced section — excluding the openings chapter — about 322 positions, and found 27 percent of them incorrect. I do not want to put wrong ideas into beginners’ heads by recommending Paul Magriel’s book when there are better books available. I recommend Backgammon Boot Camp instead because it contains some match theory and has a lot more about doubling theory. You can learn a lot if you roll out the positions and think about what Magriel got right and wrong.”

He is correct in that Paul’s book was an introduction to how Backgammon should be played. What it did was make me THINK critically about the game. QUESTION EVERYTHING! Think for yourself. In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you.” (http://bobdylan.com/songs/rolling-stone/)

Backgammon Boot Camp was published in 2004, decades after I stopped playing Backgammon and went back to Chess, so I have not read it. Notice it is unsigned. Here are a couple of other, signed, comments about Paul’s book, a book known as the “Bible of Backgammon”:

“The best introduction to the game. Covers basic checker play very well. If you read and thoroughly understand this book, you’ll play a decent game. Weaknesses—skimpy treatment of the doubling cube.”—Marty Storer, May 1992

“By far the most complete book on the game. A must for the serious minded backgammon enthusiast. It carefully explains the game’s basic concepts, ideas and strategic principles.”—Butch Meese, January 1984 (http://www.bkgm.com/books/Magriel-Backgammon.html)

Paul’s book helped me to become a decent player. Two books by Danny Kleinman, Vision Laughs at Counting: With Advice to the Dicelorn,

part one & two, helped elevate me to another, much higher, level. (http://www.bkgm.com/books/Kleinman-VisionLaughsAtCountingVol1.html)

Some years later, after “retiring” from BG, I encountered a young man who had earlier asked my advice on how to become stronger at Backgammon and I mentioned the Kleinman books. “I read the books you mentioned and am now the strongest player in Atlanta,” he proudly boasted. “I do not know how to thank you,” he said. “You just did,” I replied.

There were many good Backgammon players at GAMMONS. There was a tournament every Monday night.. Tom Daniel, a Viet Nam vet, won more than his share of those tournaments. There were two women, Kathy, from Chicago, and Debbie, who excelled at the nightly tournament. The real players, the money players, played in the tournament, but could not wait to get into action where the money was…Neither Kathy, or Debbie won any of the weekend tournaments, where the matches were longer and the pressure higher. The competition was fierce, with players coming from several different states to play. Then there were the traveling Backgammon players who took their ego’s on the road. Only two players finished in top places two tournaments in a row. One was Steve Moffitt, who took top prize back to back in tournaments with names long forgotten. The other was this writer, who finished second twice in a row. Former Chess player, and budding Doctor, Frank Blaydes, whom I had known from Chess, and his friend Mark watched while writing down the moves, as I lost to a dentist in the first round. “He was lucky,” they said. “Remember what I told you guys,” I answered. “I know, I know,” said Frank, “I’d rather be lucky than good, ’cause when I’m good and lucky I can’t be beat!” Fortunately for me it was a double elimination event, and I was able to get to the final from the elimination group, a first. My opponent, the dentist, said, “I was hoping it would not be you.” Once again Frank and Mark took notation. Once again the dentist was lucky, besting me again in a long match, in which I was the heavy favorite in the side betting. I could not contain myself. “You were lucky,” said I. “You are not as good as you think,” he retorted. I challenged him to continue the match the following night, which was Monday. He entered the tournament; I did not. He lost his match and it was game on. I won all the prize money he had won from the weekend tournament, plus some…Frankly, I cleaned his clock. He was never seen again…

That’s the way it is in Backgammon. Former Georgia State Chess Champion Bob Joiner played BG at Gammons. He had the misfortune to win a weekend tournament. I say misfortune because he was not a top player. Winning the tournament made him think he was now a top player. He began to play the best, and began to lose money, then had the wherewithal to stop playing. After retiring Bob came to the Atlanta Chess Center where I was working. I asked him why he had stopped playing Backgammon. He was honest enough to say, “Because I was losing too much.” We had never played Backgammon, but I would visit him at his office when he was a well respected Public Defender where we would have lunch while playing Backgammon.

One of the weekend tournaments I won was named the Georgia Championship. Another was the Atlanta Championship, which made me the only person ever to become the Atlanta Champion in both Backgammon and Chess.

http://pokerdb.thehendonmob.com/player.php?a=r&n=466

X-22 knocks out the Brat