cover image The Bernini Bust

The Bernini Bust

Iain M. Pears. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $19.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-15-111830-4

Jonathan Argyll, Pears's ( The Titian Committee ) endearingly incompetent British art historian and art dealer in Rome, falls into a large sale of a lesser Titian--with a hitch: he must take the oil painting to the private Moresby museum in L.A. without so much as a down payment. The museum lives up to its nouveau reputation, having a collection without focus, a curator with grandiose plans and some Moresby family members with personal agendas sniping at the budget. Jonathan and amiable but dodgy art dealer Hector di Souza are invited to a party to celebrate Moresby's commitment to the Big Museum, otherwise known as ``the BM.'' As the acquisition of a lost Bernini bust of Pope Pius V is announced, di Souza is visibly distressed; moments later Moresby is dead and di Souza and the bust have disappeared. Jonathan calls his old love in Rome, Flavia de Stefano of the Italian National Art Theft Fund, to report on the smuggled and now missing bust and moments later just escapes being killed. Flavia, connecting the bust to an old war story involving some of the suspects, flies to L.A. and, joined by an Italian LAPD cop, tries to get Jonathan out of trouble, the killer in jail and the bust back to Roma. With sharply etched characters and art world lore, Pears's latest tale is a lark in grand British style. (Sept.)