Though Fred Taylor thinks his trip to Paris to bid on a Sargeant watercolor on behalf of his boss, Boston collector Clayton Reed, has been a washout, it’s actually been wildly successful, as Reed demonstrates when he looks inside a rolled-up French newspaper Fred grabbed as a stricken fellow-passenger dropped it in Logan Airport, and finds a richly illuminated folio sheet showing the resurrection of Lazarus from a priceless medieval Bible. It’s crucial for Fred to establish where this sheet came from, who it belongs to, and why his dead fellow-traveler, “subversive landscape artist” Jacob Geist, was smuggling it into the country. But these matters are much less important to Reed, who wants to know only how where the rest of the manuscript is and how he can legally hold on to this piece of it. The circumspect inquiries Fred and his avid employer make of book dealer Hannah Bruckmann (who manages to sound even more like Nero Wolfe than Reed does) not only reveal more about the Bible’s history—it was produced by the John and Herman Limbourg for Philip the Bold of France around 1400—but alert a bevy of collectors to its existence. Watching enterprising and resourceful Fred disarm the sweet-talking gypsy moths and repel the franker marauders provides a flock of ultra-civilized giggles while you’re waiting for the sad tale of the manuscript to emerge.
The fifth in this increasingly accomplished series is as urbane and amusing, if in the end not quite as trenchant, as Dirty Linen (1999), Fred’s high-water mark to date.