Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fantastic Historical Thriller, Mona Lisa's Secret by Phil Philips

The Mona Lisa. The best known, most visited, most written and sung about, as well as the most parodied work of art in the world, was staring Joey right in the face. La Joconde’s eyes seemed to follow him as he walked to the other side of the room, deep in thought. 
A cold shiver ran down Joey’s spine as his brain struggled to assess what he possessed. ‘Come on, this has got to be a fake,’ he said. ‘The real one hangs in the Louvre.’
 ‘If it’s a fake your father sure has gone to huge lengths to keep it preserved,’ Marie countered.

In the heat of summer, renaissance restorer Bernard Martino entered the Louvre and forced his way down the seemingly endless corridor of vaulted archways in a hurry. His loose white shirt clung to his back in places as he pushed through the masses of sweaty tourists that flowed like a sluggish river through the galleries. In the distance of the Denon Wing loomed the gateway to the Louvre’s most popular section – La Grande Galerie – which housed the most valuable Italian masterpieces of all time. Bernard panted with the effort of forcing his unfit, slightly overweight forty-year-old frame through the crowds...
He stopped to take a breath, his eyes darting upward to the security cameras mounted high on the walls, turning to capture his every move.
At the end of the hall Bernard turned right through the wooden-framed doors of the Salle des Etats – the large rectangular chamber that housed the Mona Lisa. He turned to the northwestern wall. A cluster of tourists were lined up to see Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous work, what the French like to call La Joconde. He sprinted forward, pushing through the people like Moses parting the Red Sea. 
‘Hey, wait your turn,’ shouted an elderly lady with thick-framed glasses in English. ‘Ta zài tui,’ spoke a Chinese man, shaking his head, clearly not happy. 
But Bernard didn’t care. Today, he needed to do something. As he reached the front of the queue he saw the Mona Lisa in all its glory, set into a raw sandy wall six feet from where he stood. It sat behind two wooden barriers inside a vitrine. 
Facing the painting, Bernard ducked under the first curved wooden barrier, then slid under the wooden benchtop that sat beneath the Mona Lisa. He could hear the puzzled murmurs coming from the crowd of people around him. 
‘Was macht er?’ 
‘He can’t go over there!’ 
Concealed in front of him on the wall was a cream cover plate; he flipped it open to reveal a unique keyhole. With shaking fingers, he took out the gold key and slid it into the hole, turning it clockwise. Instantly, the bulletproof glass panel protecting the priceless Mona Lisa tilted upward. Following the grooves in the wall and the high ceiling, it ascended smoothly, exposing the oil painting. There were gasps of astonishment from the crowd as they noticed the moving glass. For security reasons, only a handful of people were privileged to see how the Mona Lisa was extracted to be restored and cleaned before being placed back on display, and now hundreds of people had witnessed it. 
Bernardo quickly slid out from under the wooden bench and began to unscrew the lid on his water bottle using his gloved hand, careful not to spill the contents. 
‘What’s he doing?’ asked a young female tourist with a Canon DSLR camera strapped around her neck. At that moment the three guards entered the room with their weapons raised and ready to fire...
‘Behold the famous painting,’ he said, pointing to it, and felt a wave of pride wash over him at what he had achieved over the years. It was truly his best work. And yet the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile now hung unprotected, laid bare by a man who wanted to destroy it. 
‘Don’t do it,’ said the lead guard. 
Bernard continued to speak, his voice booming across the room. ‘Painted by the famous Leonardo – da Vinci …’ he said theatrically. 
‘Stop!’ the guard warned once more, his voice strong and direct. ‘We’ll be forced to shoot you.’ 
‘You have all been deceived,’ said Bernard, motioning his arm backwards while holding the bottle tightly, ready to move it forward and splash the contents all over the masterpiece in front of him.
 ‘No! Put the bottle down. You move again and we will shoot.’ 
Bernard began to weep. He knew there was no going back from this. ‘I will show you the truth,’ he cried. ‘Your Louvre curator Pierre Savard, a man I thought was my friend, has betrayed you … just as he has betrayed me.’
 ‘Hand the bottle over,’ said the guard again. 
‘He doesn’t want you to know,’ said Bernard. The guard touched his ear as if someone on the other end had given him instructions. He eyes burned into Bernard’s. ‘I have been ordered to shoot you if you continue.’ 
Bernard smiled sarcastically at the guard. ‘Pierre Savard, the man in your ear, wants to keep me quiet, because he doesn’t want the world to know that the Mona Lisa is a —’ 
Bernard didn’t finish that sentence.

Mona Lisa's Secret

By Phil Philips

I was hooked right away by the clever way the author opens the book. Joey Peruggia, a descendant of a criminal family has turned legit...It is 2016, and he's involved with Marie a beautiful woman ten years older, who has extensive knowledge in art and history. In fact, Joey has enjoyed learning from their countless discussions and even, later in the book, is able to use what he's learned to help in a difficult situation.

The fluidity of the historical perspective within a present-day thriller is very well done, mainly because of these two characters... Especially when, by accident, they find a hidden room where Joey is now living and had inherited from his family. Joey is the last member of his immediate family and knows nothing about his family's history except from second and third-hand stories passed down through generations. So both Joey and Marie are shocked when they discover...the Mona Lisa, hidden in a secured space within this hidden room. Both look at it carefully and believe it is probably the original, which had been stolen by his ancestor. When that had occurred, he was supposed to have given the painting back to the Louvre, but if a copy had been made, that had been the perfect time to make the switch!

Above the desk, high up on the wall, rested a poster of the Louvre’s famous glass pyramid. Joey’s father, Alexander, was the grandson of Vincenzo Peruggia, the man who stole the original Mona Lisa back in 1911. Paris and Leonardo da Vinci had always had a special place in his father’s heart...

Marie was regarded as one of the best, most respected connoisseurs in the art world, having worked all over the globe, including at the Louvre. She was now the proud owner of her own art studio in Santa Monica. Author of two novels entitled Art of the Renaissance and The Great Italian Masters of All Time, she had seen and studied up close many renaissance paintings in her career, but Joey knew this particular painting made her deliriously happy. 
‘The brushstrokes are perfectly carried out, done in the old sfumato technique,’ Marie murmured, as though she were back in the Louvre explaining it to an audience. ‘A smoked sense is felt when gazing at the renaissance painting. The flesh tones are rich and vibrant. The eyes are filled with a story. She is beautiful.’
 ‘So … what are you saying?’
 ‘Joey … I can’t really believe I’m about to say this, but I don’t think this is a fake.’
 ‘You don’t? But how can that be?’
 ‘She’s perfect. I can’t see any flaws.’

Fortunately, Joey and Marie both agree that they should return the Mona Lisa to the Louvre where it belongs... And that's when the true adventure begins, as was hinted at in Chapter 1...

Marie talked to the Curator, with whom she'd been working for so many years, feeling like he'd become something like an uncle,  and he was certainly extremely happy to hear from her and asked that they immediately come to France...

Before Vincenzo Peruggia stole the Mona Lisa in 1911, the painting was considered an exceptional piece of art, nothing more. But after its return in 1913, it became a legend. From that point on, the Mona Lisa was considered irreplaceable, a masterpiece. The robbery had catapulted her to stardom, and she was now the most recognizable painting on the planet.
Joey’s great-grandfather was the reason behind her celebrity status. He himself had become a hero in Italy, for trying to return La Joconde to his home country; the country of the artist.
 ‘You’ve got to be kidding me! The man who stole the Mona Lisa was your great-grandfather?’
 ‘But he was caught and the Louvre took back the painting in 1913.’
Joey nodded thoughtfully.
 ‘But what if that’s not what really happened? How do we explain the presence of a painting of the Mona Lisa in my father’s secret room? A painting that has been sitting in some kind of air-controlled vial and has the Louvre’s personal seal stamped on it? This painting and the one in the Louvre can’t both be genuine.’
 ‘But if we’re right, your great-grandfather must have exchanged the real painting for an exceptional fake, a fake that could escape detection. Can it be possible he succeeded?’
 Marie had a thought. ‘Hang on, the letters in the safe, maybe they can help explain —’

One hint before I close...this book is not about Mona Lisa... It's about her secret!!! 

And Marie and Joey are about to discover the first part... as well as discover that their lives are in serious danger!

What a double whammy! Just when readers are getting excited about the original Mona Lisa having been found, once Joey and Marie enter the Louvre, an entirely different story explodes and we are left gasping, wondering what is really going on... This does result in a traditional "treasure hunt" hero and Joey surprises us by changing from his carefree life as a rich heir into a brilliant hero that at every challenge is winning out over those who are searching for the original Mona Lisa for an entirely different reason...

No matter what the outcome, I was thoroughly enjoying this new hero that arose from the past criminal family involvement to, as they say, save the day for the world! I loved it! I read or watch a lot of movies with this theme and I must say that this book comes right up there in thrilling excitement that will capture your attention from the first to last page. 

An interesting little tidbit about this book...I had received the request for review but was unable to load either of the ebooks that I'd received...together with several suggestion alternatives to use the file... Instead, I went out and bought my own copy. Wow...I'm so glad I didn't miss this one! The variety of twists were amazing. Kudos to the author! I suggest you watch this writer because he may be the newest best-selling author in this particular genre!


Phil Philips is driven and passionate, known by friends and family as a renaissance man, into anything and everything. Phil comes from a vast digital media background with over seventeen years working in the advertising industry. Phil thrives to create pieces of artwork, whether it’s designing a magazine layout, building websites, editing a video composition, painting in oils, or writing page turning thriller novels. Phil’s writing style has been linked to James Patterson and Matthew Reilly.

Phil lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife and two kids and is the author to two action packed thriller novels Fortune in Blood and Mona Lisa’s Secret.

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