Common sense dictates that it simply cannot exist -- the "Leopardi Madonna," a glorious treasure by the fifteenth-century master Santi Raphael. All the reference books and reliable scholarship indicate that the painting was destroyed in 1945, when the Allies bombed a Nazi warehouse filled with looted art. Only now the Madonna has reappeared, it seems, in this stunning, original thriller that uncovers greed and treachery in the rarefied precincts of the art world. Summoned to Venice from America to view the painting, Renaissance scholar and sometime-art dealer Jordan Brooks returns to the city that had enchanted him twenty years before. As he ponders the possibility that a fake was set afire a half century earlier and the authentic work has resurfaced -- or that the actual masterpiece was lost in the conflagration and a magnificent fake has taken its place -- he also contemplates the strange and secret auction which offers him a chance to bid on the painting. Set against the backdrop of Venice in late autumn, when the timeless city's rain-swollen lagoons threaten to swamp all her treasures, the novel limns the path that lands Jordan on the doorstep of his former teacher, Giorgio Sagredo, who has compromised his ideals to sell the Madonna. It leads Jordan, too, into a horde of amoral art dealers eager to make a killing and, more fortuitously, introduces him to Katie, a young American student who has a scent for the truth and a way of turning up at the moment he needs her most.