Under Italian law, you can be jailed for two years for paying a ransom for a loved one who’s kidnapped. And Prime Minister Antonio Sabauda’s not about to do time for the return of a mere painting, even if that painting is an oft-stolen Claude Lorraine borrowed from the Louvre whose safety Sabauda’s government has personally guaranteed. So Flavia di Stefano, acting head of Rome’s art-theft squad, can’t look for Landscape with Cephalis and Procris herself (that would alert the media it’s missing) or satisfy the ransom demand with government funds (that would break the law). But, Sabauda delicately hints, if a private donor should make the funds available . . . hours before an anonymous package arrives for Flavia containing the ransom to the last Euro. The teasing puzzle is further complicated when Flavia realizes that the painting’s thief, terrorist/performance artist Maurizio Sabbatini, drowned in a tub of plaster not only before picking up the ransom money, but even before making the ransom demand. Meantime, her bridegroom Jonathan Argyll’s scholarly interest in an Immaculate Conception painting stolen 40 years ago reveals surprising, sometimes incredible, new roles for Jonathan’s old adversary, aging art thief Mary Verney, and Flavia’s retiring mentor, General Taddeo Bottando, and inevitably links the two thefts together with every other Italian malfeasance since the Borgias.
So many secrets are disclosed and so many bridges burned in this tangled, high-spirited seventh case for Flavia and Jonathan (Death and Restoration, 1998, etc.) that it’s hard to imagine what Pears might have left for an eighth.