Charming character study of an attractive turn-of-the-century con man. Noah's first novel, All the Right Answers (1988), deftly traced the quiz-show scandal of the late 1950s and featured a similarly charming scoundrel/rigger of game shows. The story this time begins on August 21, 1911, when Leonardo's La Gioconda is stolen from the Louvre. Who masterminded the theft? According to an article printed in 1932 in the Saturday Evening Post, a certain Marquis de Valfierno was responsible, and upon this pedestal Noah shapes his tale. At 56, the Marquis has a long history of selling forgeries of lost paintings by old masters, even though these ``lost'' paintings never in fact existed. They are instead the original products of one Yves Chaudron, an extraordinary young copyist whose brilliant future is subverted by the Marquis into making the supposedly lost ``originals'' by Murillo and others—which the Marquis has sold in Buenos Aires and now hawks as priceless works in Mexico City. When the Marquis falls in love with Rosa Maria, his barber's 16-year-old daughter, then impregnates and marries her, he foresees that she and his child will long outlive him. Not even his skills as a con man can raise enough money to carry her through the rest of her life without him. And so he dreams up his grand farewell theft of the Mona Lisa, moving his crew, his barber, and Rosa Maria to Paris and preparing to rape the Louvre of its smiling Leonardo. When the theft takes place, the Marquis is in New York, having set up six different buyers before the picture was even stolen. With the original hidden in Paris, he instructs Chaudron to paint six copies and sells four of them to Americans. And how does the original return to the Louvre? Witty dialogue and a thoroughly colorful cast of rogues.
Read full book review >