One night, Ben Mezrich received an unexpected phone call. The caller claimed to know something about the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist. Could it be true? Ever since the Boston art museum was robbed of 13 pieces of artwork in 1990, the unsolved crime has been fodder for amateur sleuths. But there was something credible about this tip, recalls the 53-year-old author.
“He told me just enough to make me think he might know what he was talking about,” Mezrich says. “He told me he was breaking his parole to come meet with me – and set up a meeting in an alley in South Boston.”
Or maybe not. Mezrich’s suspicions grew, and he called off the meeting. But the brief call had lasting effects. Since then, Mezrich has been obsessed with the case, and he started to piece together a fictional explanation for that fateful night. The result is “The Midnight Ride” (Grand Central Publishing 2022), his conspiracy-soaked thriller about gambling schemes, Paul Revere, higher math and the “true” motivation for the Gardner robbery.
Mezrich will read from “The Midnight Ride” at “Books and Beer,” an event hosted March 8 by Rhode Island literary maven Robin Kall. The evening is co-produced by Kall’s series “Reading with Robin” and the Boston Globe’s Rhode Island bureau.
You may not know the name Ben Mezrich, but you certainly know his work. His nonfiction book “Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions” was an international bestseller and was adapted into the popular 2008 movie “21.” Another Mezrich book “The Accidental Billionaire: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal” became David Fincher’s 2010 blockbuster, “The Social Network.”
Mezrich also has authored a small library of other titles, many of them high-intensity nonfiction about money-making schemes and stock market hijinks.
“I’m fascinated by people who game the system, or beat the system, using their brains and imagination,” says Mezrich. “I’ve always loved rule breakers, but not criminals, so much – smart people who find different ways to get ahead. I love the gray area between right and wrong because it’s often so dramatic. And that’s where the fun lives. I do think sometimes these types of people can be difficult – as sources, as friends, as idols. But they are also really fascinating.”
Mezrich grew up in a Conservative Jewish household in Boston, where he still lives.
“Many of my childhood memories revolve around the Jewish holidays,” he says. “My extended family would get together and discuss all sorts of things, late into the night. I think from an early age, I learned how to question things, how to conduct deep research and how to tell stories from these family holidays. My parents are big believers in books and education, and I think a lot of that goes hand in hand with Jewish culture. Asking questions, debating answers – to me that’s a big part of being Jewish.”
Although Mezrich has become highly successful in New York publishing and Hollywood film production, including regular credits in the Showtime series “Billions,” he continues to draw inspiration from his hometown. Starting with its title, “Midnight Ride” is dense with Boston-area references.
“I love Boston,” he says. “The blend of historical and modern, the idea that revolutionary war heroes walked these streets that are now filled with smart college kids and tech entrepreneurs and Red Sox fans. So many brilliant people move through this city, all the time. It’s a great place to find stories. And unlike New York, LA, it’s not a place that’s focused mostly around a single industry, like Hollywood or banking. It’s a place that’s filled with all sorts of people doing all sorts of things.”
“Midnight Ride” isn’t Mezrich’s first work of fiction. In fact, he started his career as a novelist and fell into journalism by accident, when he started hanging out with the MIT blackjack team. Many bestsellers later, “Midnight Ride” is a chance to flex both muscles.
“I’ve always believed my nonfiction should read like fiction and my fiction should read like nonfiction. I write true stories that feel like movies, and my fiction, to me, feels like it’s based on reality,” says Mezrich. “I love writing nonfiction, but to me every book has to be cinematic, like a movie in words, or I wouldn’t write it. I love telling stories in a visual way. ‘The Midnight Ride’ is a dream come true – a thriller that twists and turns through history, based in many real things, but also fiction.”
“Books & Beer” takes place March 8, 7 p.m., at Narragansett Brewery, 271 Tockwotton St., Providence. Click here for tickets and info.