Fledgling British art historian Jonathan Argyll, picked up for vagrancy when he's found hanging around a pokey Roman church, tells a wild story: He's come to check on his hunch that an obscure Mantini canvas hanging in the church actually conceals a lost Raphael painted beneath. The Mantini is already gone, sold to questionable British art dealer Sir Edward Byrnes, who promptly cleans, exhibits, and auctions it--to Argyll's chagrin--as the Raphael. Or is it? When the heralded painting is torched soon after its installation in Rome's National Museum, General Taddeo Bottando and Falvia di Stefano of the National Art Theft Squad have to join forces with Argyll--an amusingly unreliable ally--to follow a twisted trail of forgery, fraud, and murder. Politely sordid art-dealing background is the highlight of this quietly lighthearted first novel by art-historian Pears (The Discovery of Painting, 1980).