A museum curator travels to Italy and looks into a murder in this “fresh, funny [and] thoroughly enjoyable mystery” by the author of the Gideon Oliver series (Publishers Weekly).
Mild‑mannered and law‑abiding, Chris Norgren, curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Seattle Art Museum, is an unlikely undercover investigator, but when a priceless Rubens portrait is discovered in a shipment of “authentic reproductions” in a local warehouse, Chris is pressed into service to find out how it got there. The quest leads him to the medieval city of Bologna, one of his favorite places, but all too soon what might have been a welcome Italian interlude turns into a bizarre journey into shady art world doings and murderous secrets . . .
Set in the gossipy, rumor-ridden art world, this thoroughly enjoyable mystery begins with the discovery of a fake Van Eyck and a real Rubens in the Seattle warehouse of an importer of schlock art sold en masse to hotels. Identifying the works almost instantly is ironic, self-deprecating narrator Chris Norgren, first met in Deceptive Clarity. Chris, a curator at the Seattle Art Museum, is swept up in the dangerous hunt for thieves, perhaps mafiosi, who stole the Rubens and other works in three almost simultaneous hauls--worth $100 million--in Bologna 22 months earlier. Chris may be an expert on craquelure , or crackling in paint, but he's none too acute on human beings, totally misjudging a gaggle of suspects and the head of the carabinieri's art theft unit, the narrow-shouldered Antuoni, who seems to him to be simply an officious file clerk. The reader dines well with Chris, enjoying steamed clams and white wine on the Seattle waterfront, and cuschninetti di vitello, veal scallops stuffed with prosciutto and cheese, in a grand Bolognese restaurant. We also fly with him to Sicily (after a delay caused by the finding of a bomb in his luggage) and to Amsterdam. This fresh, funny and well-informed book should win new fans for Elkins, whose Old Bones earned an Edgar for best novel in 1988. Detective Book Club selection.