Book Review: The Last Mona Lisa

Genre: Fiction, historical fiction, art-history thriller.
Star Rating: 4-1/4 out of 5
Plot Summary from Goodreads: August, 1911: The Mona Lisa is stolen by Vincent Peruggia. Exactly what happens in the two years before its recovery is a mystery. Many replicas of the Mona Lisa exist, and more than one historian has wondered if the painting now in the Louvre is a fake, switched in 1911.
Present day: art professor Luke Perrone digs for the truth behind his most famous ancestor: Peruggia. His search attracts an Interpol detective with something to prove and an unfamiliar but curiously helpful woman. Soon, Luke tumbles deep into the world of art and forgery, a land of obsession and danger.
A gripping novel exploring the 1911 theft and the present underbelly of the art world, The Last Mona Lisa is a suspenseful tale, tapping into our universal fascination with da Vinci’s enigma, why people are driven to possess certain works of art, and our fascination with the authentic and the fake. 

This was a buddy-read with my friend, Katie – her pick – for our quarterly readalong, and she sure picked a good one!

What I Liked:
* First off, I loved that this is based on an actual historical event – the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa. This event still has art historians questioning whether the “real” Mona Lisa was returned to the museum, and whether or not the one hanging there is a forgery (and if there are other fakes out there too). The author is himself an artist and he really brought the art world, both in the early 1900s as well as contemporary art world to life brilliantly.
* Really great characters. All of them are flawed, most of them are morally gray or at least have had questionable morals at some point in their lives, and all of them are believable. He did a wonderful job keeping me guessing as to who had ulterior motives and which of the characters was more than they seemed.
* Action-packed, fast-moving plot. This reminded me of Dan Brown at his best. Not a slasher-type thrilled but one with lots of story twist and turns, both in the 1911 story and in the contemporary one. He did a fantastic job marrying the action with lush descriptions of places in Florence, Italy, as well as museums and historic locations. The chapters were also short, which heightened the sense of urgency. Katie and I both commented how hard it was to put this one down at the end of our respective lunch breaks and go back to work!

What I Didn’t Like: My only real complaint about this book is, as it is told from multiple points of view, sometimes I’d start a chapter and be unsure which of the characters was talking. I occasionally had to read a page, figure out who we were focusing on, and then go back and re-read to catch myself up. It could have used some tighter copy-editing to help the reader figure out this aspect without having to back-track to find the details to identify the character/place setting.

A really entertaining, page-turner of a read, and a great way to kick off our quarterly readalongs together for the year! Definitely would recommend if you have interest in history, art history or enjoy books like The DaVinci Code.

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