The best mysteries featuring amateur sleuths searching for lost art

The Books I Picked & Why

The Night Portrait: A Novel of World War II and Da Vinci's Italy

By Laura Morelli

Book cover of The Night Portrait: A Novel of World War II and Da Vinci's Italy

Why this book?

This sweeping dual-timeline novel takes readers inside the minds of German and Allied soldiers fighting to protect Europe’s artistic treasures during WWII, as well as to the 15th century court of the Duke of Milan. A portrait of one of his lordship’s mistresses, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, connects the two time periods.

I found it fascinating to travel to the frontlines of battle with the characters and search – sometimes fruitlessly – for the artwork that had been looted and hidden away by Nazi troops. This novel provides a fascinating insight into what the Monuments Men went through while trying to track down Europe’s most important cultural icons.


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The Art Forger

By B.A. Shapiro

Book cover of The Art Forger

Why this book?

This intoxicating art history mystery was so good, I wanted to read it all over again the moment I finished it! The story follows an artist hired to make a perfect copy of a painting her client delivers to her studio, one she recognizes as having been stolen from the Gardner Museum years earlier. Yet is it really the lost Degas, or is it also a copy? This novel follows the artist’s descent into madness as she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding the painting’s origins and the unsolved theft. As a mystery fan, I was captivated by the twists and turns. As an art historian, it was wonderful to get lost in the art-infused storylines revolving around modern masters and their patrons.


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Titian's Boatman

By Victoria Blake

Book cover of Titian's Boatman

Why this book?

This complex novel is akin to going on a highly enjoyable journey through gorgeous settings and two distinct periods of time. A multitude of seemingly unrelated stories set in London, Venice, and New York City, slowly intertwine and merge throughout the novel. Revenge drives one character, the desire to reach a higher social standing another, fame and perhaps wealth motivates a third, and memories of better times keep a fourth going. Yet all of their stories are connected via a single painting, Titian’s Man With the Blue Sleeve. To find out how and why, you’ll have to read this captivating novel. 


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The Art Whisperer

By Charlotte Elkins, Aaron Elkins

Book cover of The Art Whisperer

Why this book?

Alix London is the spunky lead character in Charlotte Elkins’ four-novel-long series of art mysteries. Alix is an art restorer with a sordid past, who is helping a rich Seattle businesswoman build up an art collection. The Art Whisperer is a fantastic story about forgeries, restoration, museum politics, and murder. Elkins is able to describe the art world in such a way that even those not interested in art history would enjoy this book and series. 


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Old Scores

By Aaron Elkins

Book cover of Old Scores

Why this book?

No list about mysteries involving missing art can exclude Aaron Elkins! He is the author of several art history mystery novels revolving around a museum professional searching for artwork lost during World War II. Old Scores is no exception. This borderline cozy mystery novel is a clever art history mystery about forgeries, the worth and perception of art, and what some will do to 'make it' in the art world. 


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