The Last Mona Lisa

September 1, 2020

A grip­ping nov­el explor­ing the secrets of the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa and the dark under­bel­ly of today’s art world. A sto­ry of heart-stop­ping sus­pense as roman­tic and sexy as it is ter­ri­fy­ing and thrilling, one that taps into our uni­ver­sal fas­ci­na­tion with da Vin­ci, the authen­tic and the fake, and peo­ple so dri­ven to acquire price­less works of art, they will stop at noth­ing to pos­sess them‚ not even murder.

The Past, August 1911: The Mona Lisa is stolen by muse­um work­er Vin­cent Perug­gia. Dur­ing its two-year absence from the Lou­vre, repli­cas of the paint­ing are cre­at­ed and sold as the orig­i­nal by a noto­ri­ous duo of con artists. Sev­er­al of these forg­eries remain at large, prompt­ing more than one art his­to­ri­an to spec­u­late that the muse­um might well be dis­play­ing a fake.

The Present: Artist and art pro­fes­sor Luke Per­rone hunts for the truth behind his most infa­mous ances­tor, Perug­gia. His search attracts a reck­less INTER­POL detec­tive with some­thing to prove, a beau­ti­ful woman who may want more than Luke’s affec­tion, and a hor­net’s nest of the most unscrupu­lous art col­lec­tors and thieves.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Jonathan Santlofer

  1. How do you define art? What is the dif­fer­ence between mas­ter­pieces and art made by hobbyists?

  2. Art theft and forgery are com­pli­cat­ed and fas­ci­nat­ing crimes. Why would some­one pre­fer to own a mas­ter­piece (which must be kept secret) rather than view­ing it in a muse­um? Is forgery an art unto itself?

  3. Had you heard of Vin­cent Perrugia’s theft of the Mona Lisa before read­ing the book? What else did you learn while reading?

  4. Ear­ly on, Luke seems to have a dif­fer­ent sense of time than the Ital­ians around him and is told to be more patient. How do Amer­i­can val­ues con­tribute to impa­tience? How can we slow down in our dai­ly lives?

  5. John Wash­ing­ton Smith decides against using offi­cial Inter­pol chan­nels when Luke’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Quat­troc­chi first catch his atten­tion. Why did he want to pur­sue the mat­ter per­son­al­ly? What were the con­se­quences of his decision?

  6. Describe Alex. What does she want?

  7. While pos­ing as an art deal­er, Smith sug­gest that buy­ing and sell­ing art doesn’t con­tribute to the bet­ter­ment of mankind. Do you agree? How do mon­e­tary trans­ac­tions shape our ideas of artis­tic and social value?

  8. Vin­cent resists becom­ing involved in the theft for a long time. What final­ly con­vinces him to steal the Mona Lisa? How does eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty per­pet­u­ate crime?

  9. Smith describes mak­ing and col­lect­ing art as an addic­tion. Do you think his view­point is sup­port­ed by the events of the book? Can you think of any real-world exam­ples that prove him right?

  10. Chau­dron is metic­u­lous in his forg­eries but he can’t resist sign­ing them. What do you think moti­vates him to endan­ger his work, even sub­tly? Would you take such a risk in his position?

  11. What dri­ves Luke to break his long record of sobri­ety? How does it com­pare to his temp­ta­tion in Florence?

  12. Why does Luke keep dig­ging after he returns to New York? Would you have been so per­sis­tent in his place?