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Stealing Mona Lisa by Carson Morton
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312621711
Date: 02 August 2011 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Con artist Eduardo de Valfierno specializes in stealing invaluable paintings and selling them to his wealthy, greedy clients. Unfortunately for them, what they actually receive are expertly painted forgeries. The genuine masterpieces continue to hang in their museums. Yearning to end his career on a high note, Valfierno plans to steal the Mona Lisa, (La Joconde), paint and sell six forgeries, and then return it to the Louvre. Unfortunately, his plans unravel when a duped client is determined to kill him, a promotion-hungry inspector vows to retrieve the stolen masterpiece and a flood threatens to destroy Paris.

Carson Morton's Stealing Mona Lisa is one of the most enjoyable, delightful mysteries I've read in a long time. It has the perfect balance of adventure, suspense, romance, and humor. Appropriate reading for all teenagers and adults, it has very little violence and cursing. Stealing Mona Lisa is based on the actual theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911. (In fact, this novel was published on its 100th anniversary.) Some of the novel's characters existed in real life while others have been created by the author’s imagination. The true identity of one character, when revealed towards the end, will come as a wonderful surprise. In fact, the ending is a rather happy one that will please everyone.

The novel begins in Paris, 1925. A reporter from the London Daily Express, Roger Hargreaves, has come to interview the dying Valfierno who claims he knows the truth concerning the theft of the Mona Lisa. Serving as the narrator, Valfierno transports the reader back to Buenos Aires, 1910, where he is planning to sell a forgery of La Ninfa Sorprendida to American billionaire Joshua Hart. Romance first blossoms when he espies Hart's lonely trophy wife, Ellen. Valfierno secretly longs to own this beautiful treasure. Later, he encounters a lovely American pickpocket, Julia Conway. Her ability to distract guards and steal their keys makes her an invaluable asset of his team. She also becomes the love interest of Émile, Valvierno’s young protégé whom he found living as a street urchin in Paris.

Normally, I detest and abhor thievery of any kind. When something is stolen, everyone has to pay in the form of increased insurance rates, higher taxes and more expensive prices in the stores. However, Eduardo Valfierno and his team are merely swindling their wealthy clientele. They are a lovable set of characters that stole my heart. I kept wishing them success in their endeavors. I genuinely feared for their lives when the Seine began overflowing its banks in Paris, which served as a spectacular setting for most of the novel's plot. With its narrow, cobbled streets; motorcars and horse drawn carts; and quaint bakeries and cafes, I felt as though I was actually living there.

Carson Morton's Stealing Mona Lisa is a true masterpiece of historical mystery. While Hurricane Irene threatened my home, instead of watching the latest news, I kept reading Stealing Mona Lisa. As the streets of Chesapeake flooded, I was reading about the water flowing into the tunnels of Paris. I couldn't put this novel down. With its easy flowing writing style, swiftly moving plot, slapstick humor, and warmhearted romance, it has the ability to mesmerize and provide great escapism, even from a hurricane. I can only hope that the author's next novel will be as captivating. Though I doubt it will be a sequel to Stealing Mona Lisa, perhaps it will also deal with another grand theft of historical significance. Nevertheless, after reading Stealing Mona Lisa, whenever I see a great work of art hanging in a museum, I will always wonder if it is the original or a forgery.

Fans of historical mysteries based on actual people may also want to read Phil Rickman's The Bones of Avalon. This creepy, atmospheric thriller is centered around the bookish, erudite Dr. John Dee, official astrologer to Queen Elizabeth. In 1560, he travels to Glastonbury Abbey on the Isle of Avalon in search of King Arthur's skeleton. He soon discovers that the villagers are involved in the selling of forged holy relics, ritualistic killings and a ghastly plot to murder the queen.

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