Begley's fifth (About Schmidt, 1996; As Max Saw It, 1994, etc.) is the tale of a master of finance--advertising, actually--who faces terminal cancer with the same stiff upper lip and commanding refinement that led him through his not-always-appealing life. Diagnosed with cancer that leaves him about half a year to go, Thomas Mistier heads into the final few months of his life in--panic? despair? fear? None of the above, thank you. This man who has gotten--taken, one might say-all he's wanted from life isn't going to stop living the same way now. He'll tell all to his dutiful but unloved wife Clara, but not just yet, and the same for his much-loved but distant son and only child, Sam, 36. There'll be time later for final moments--but it's essential first that the sale of Mistler's firm, already underway, not be jeopardized by news of his illness. Still, on the other hand, maybe Mistier does need to be alone and think a little: so, with a few practical lies to Clara and Sam--business abroad, delays--he's off to his favorite city of Venice, ""the one place on earth where nothing irritated him."" Not quite true, though, since unexpected sex with a girl he'd met only once, at a New York dinner party, ends up turning him cruelly pompous and giving her the push--so he's alone to appreciate the great art, food, and wines (""There were so many reds he had never drunk"") of the ancient city. But even then, he'll bump into an old Harvard classmate, through him into another one, who this time, we're led to believe, is the one great (uncaptured) passion of his life, for whom he buys an exquisite antique glass candelabra, impressing even the glass-dealer with his knowledge, taste, refinement, and discretion. The chronicling of a patrician life from the inside: sometimes gripping, often familiar, much of the time with airs.