The Last Mona Lisa

Written by Jonathan Santlofer
Review by Trish MacEnulty

Jonathan Santlofer’s new book is sheer delight. It’s filled with depictions of art, murder, art, romance, and art. Did I mention art? Luke Perrone, a struggling painter and art professor, is fascinated by stories of his great-grandfather, Vincent Perrugia, the museum worker who stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911. The plot hinges on the possibility that the Mona Lisa in the Louvre is not authentic and the only key to the truth lies in Perrugia’s missing journal. When an Italian professor finds the journal and contacts Luke, he rushes to Florence to discover the truth about his mysterious great-grandfather, but a shadowy figure also wants the journal. When almost everyone associated with the journal winds up dead and his own life is threatened, Luke realizes he’s in over his head and turns to a rogue Interpol agent for help. While he’s trying to unravel the mystery of his great-grandfather’s theft, he’s confronted with another mystery: why is a beautiful American woman suddenly so interested in him?

It’s no surprise that the author is also an artist. His character’s knowledge of the topic is wide-ranging and enlightening, and the prose is written with an artist’s eye: “I imagined the stone in liquid form spilling forward like waves of lava, hardening and taking the shape of stairs, the movement trapped within.” The story is based on actual events. Vincent Peruggia did actually steal the Mona Lisa, and a con man and an art forger were likely connected with the case. The rest is fueled by the writer’s imagination as he takes readers on a wild ride, all the while introducing us to a world of fabulous art.