cover image The Raphael Affair

The Raphael Affair

Iain M. Pears. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $18.95 (191pp) ISBN 978-0-15-178912-2

Pity the rather overfed Gen. Bottando of the Italian National Art Theft Squad. An excellent, unknown Raphael was smuggled out of Rome hidden under a painting by the heroically second-rate artist Mantini. When it's eventually recovered at great cost by the Italian government and the Museo Nazionale, Bottando's peaceable existence in the Eternal City is further disturbed by forgery, arson, murder, government bureaucracy and the occasionally overzealous aid of his beautiful assistant, Flavia di Stefano, and British art historian Jonathan Argyll. Art historian Pears ( The Discovery of Painting ) provides one twist too many in his first novel, but presumably as this projected series continues his grasp of the genre will grow surer. His command of the intricacies of Italian life, art history and the licit and illicit trade in masterworks needs no improvement: although not all artists or organizations mentioned are real, none are improbable. Qua mystery, The Raphael Affair is very good; as cultural explication, it is superlative. (Oct.)