Chocolate Goes With Everything… Even Antiquities Theft
A Review of Theft by Chocolate by Luba Lesychyn

Book Review by Sophia Chase, William & Mary Post-Graduate Public Service Fellow, and L. Eden Burgess

If you want to sink your teeth into a deep, satisfying book that takes a careful and analytical look at museums and antiquities theft, Theft By Chocolate is not for you.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a light cross between museum intrigue, jewel theft, a love story, and a serious chocolate obsession, Theft by Chocolate provides a fun escape from the everyday and a good read in the spirit of Valentine’s Day. (Warning: do not read it without an unhealthy supply of chocolate nearby.)

Theft by Chocolate, by Luba Lesychyn (Attica Books 2012), tells the story of Kalena Boyko, an administrator at the (fictional) Canada National Museum, who is suddenly put in charge of a new visiting exhibition called “Treasures of the Maya.” While shouldering the responsibility of the exhibit, Kalena is plagued by her horrific boss Richard. To survive, Kalena – being not just your average chocoholic but a certified “chocolativore” – relies on a multitude of delicious chocolate treats (described by Lesychyn in drool-worthy detail).

Influenced by her dislike of Richard – and likely by a constant sugar-high – Kalena comes to believe that he plans to steal priceless objects from the Maya exhibit. She manages to drag Marco, one of the Museum’s handsome young security guards, into her quest to save the exhibition. Completing the love triangle is the dashing Brit Geoffrey, complete with a secretive family history and even more secretive access to chocolate delights.

Despite being light on substance, Theft by Chocolate does a good job of portraying some of the real issues involved with displaying a major exhibition; Lesychyn clearly knows the subject matter (she worked at the Royal Ontario Museum for 20 years, and at a museum consulting firm). The book reflects the arduous work involved in every step of such an undertaking and the unpredictable disasters that may occur along the way: at one point, basketry becomes infested with pests that threaten the ancient textiles that are part of Kalena’s exhibition.

Don’t rely on this book, however, for accurate legal advice. In one instance, Kalena’s boss tells her that the museum could not recover stolen opals after an insurance payout. Because a thief cannot transfer title, if stolen items resurface, a museum would be able to seek recovery of the items. The stolen objects would likely be returned (assuming the museum can make its case), and the payout returned to the insurance company.

Theft by Chocolate has some glaring weaknesses: not every plotline is resolved and distracting errors pop up (when a museum is very busy, it is teeming with visitors, not “teaming”). But it is an enjoyable read and provides a unique perspective into the art museum world. Kalena’s exploits offer many laugh-out-loud moments, and the mysteries certainly keep you guessing. This entertaining story swirling together an art heist, love and chocolate is a good mix.