"The Lost Madonna," like Kelly Jones' last novel, "The Seventh Unicorn," is a mystery wrapped in a romance with a smattering of art history. What's intriguing is that the dash of history is what makes the novel stand out. Not that the romance isn't satisfying—it is. In addition, the mystery involving a missing 15th century painting keeps the pace up.
Utilizing the adage "write what you know" to meticulous effect, Jones imbues this story with her own past. Art history professor Suzanne, a 53-year-old divorced, childless Boisean, returns to Florence, Italy, where she spent more than a year during college. Since Jones herself is an Idaho native, who lives in Boise, the early part of the book reads exceptionally clean. Florence also comes alive in her hands. She's a good researcher and she knows the territory well.
Jones expands that territory at Chapter One Bookstore in Ketchum Sunday, Feb. 18, when she'll sign "The Lost Madonna" from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
An evolving writer, Jones has found a terrific niche with a multitude of stories yet to be imagined. Mystery, history and a touch of love all conjoined make for an undeniably juicy read.
Suzanne falls into a seemingly heavenly life. Invited to teach a class in Florence, she leaves her marginal life to return to the place where she became a woman. It's been 30 years since Florence was deluged by the flooding of the Arno River. Many, many historical pieces from architecture to artwork were lost, destroyed or left in need of miraculous restoration efforts. The young people, including hundreds of Americans, who volunteered to help recover and restore these works, were known as "mud angels." They did everything from running errands, to drying out thousands of waterlogged books, to mucking out mud. Suzanne had been one of those young women, and her return comes with all the accoutrements of fictions. Jumping back and forth between memory and the present, Suzanne becomes a woman with a mission.
There are handy loose ends to be met, a multitude of secrets, a fantasy family, and friends and a sister who totally get her. As well, there are a fair share of coincidences and "it only happens in the movies" (or novels) too-good-to-be-truisms. (I mean, we all want the understanding dude with cool family, who happens to live in a villa in Fiesole.)
And finally, what "The Seventh Unicorn" does for the famous Lady with the Unicorn tapestries, the Cluny Museum and Paris, "The Lost Madonna" does for Renaissance art, the Uffizi Gallery and Florence. You just want to be there. Taste it. See it.
And, hey, there's nothing wrong with mature women falling into seasoned love amid the Italian countryside.