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Book Talk: Santlofer, ‘The Lost Van Gogh’

I suppose that Jonathan Santlofer’s “The Lost Van Gogh” could be considered a stand-alone mystery, but I strongly recommend reading his earlier novel, “The Last Mona Lisa” first. Although “The Lost Van Gogh” (2024, 311 pages in softcover) is not advertised as a sequel, it most definitely is. And that’s probably why I enjoyed it so much. I knew the characters, understood what they’d been through before their “current” situation, and was aware of the varied relationships among the players.

The book is a combination of treats: a travelog, a brief course in art history, a reminder of Nazi practices during World War II, and a mystery that surrounds the search for a missing self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh. The plot begins when Alex buys a small painting in upstate New York. When she shows it to her lover Luke Perrone in Manhattan, a tiny chip of paint falls off. Alex and Luke immediately suspect that a previous work has been painted over and proceed with the tedious chore of removing the top layer of paint without damaging whatever lies beneath.

Luke is an artist, a professor of art history at a New York university, and the great-grandson of Vincenzo Perrugia, the man who stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911 (the plot of Santlofer’s previous book, which I reviewed last week). He’s well aware of the rumors that there was a final self-portrait of Van Gogh that was never found among the recovered Nazi loot. As they compare Alex’s find with photographs of other Van Gogh paintings, they suspect that they have the original.


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