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'Lost Painting' tells a fascinating art story

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"The Lost Painting" by Jonathan Harr. Read by Campbell Scott. Unabridged, six hours. Random House Audio. $29.94

It may seem hard to imagine that the discovery and restoration of a lost masterpiece is enough to generate a compelling, book-length tale. But when the painting is four centuries old and one of fewer than a hundred by the famed Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, and the writer is Jonathan Harr chronicling the unearthing of this work in the early 1990s, it's a winning combination.

This is the first book from Harr since the award-winning journalist published "A Civil Action" in 1996. That title won Harr an award from the National Book Critics Circle.

"The Lost Painting," which has its origins in a piece Harr wrote for The New York Times Magazine, details the efforts of a handful of scholars and restorers to prove that a work found in a Dublin abbey is in fact an original Caravaggio. It had been missing for more than 70 years. Caravaggio scholars are a passionate lot. They refer to their obsession as a "disease." Harr, who learned Italian in order to do first-person interviews for this book, clearly contracted the disease. Campbell Scott, a veteran reader, is flawlessly understated.

'Believer' is predictable but pleasant fiction

"True Believer" by Nicholas Sparks. Read by David Aaron Baker. Unabridged, 10 hours. Time Warner AudioBooks. $39.98

Jeremy Marsh is a divorced, jaded journalist who specializes in debunking the supernatural in a column he writes for Scientific American. In "True Believer," he sets off from Manhattan for the backwater town of Boone, N.C., where ghostly lights appear in a cemetery with an intriguing history.

It doesn't take long for Marsh to figure out what's causing the cemetery to light up. Before that happens, however, he meets and falls in love with Lexie Darnell, the town's librarian. She's reluctant to succumb to Marsh's charms, but she's smitten as well.

Sparks, who's proven time and again ("The Notebook," "Message in a Bottle") that romance fiction is not the exclusive domain of women writers, deftly maneuvers Marsh and Darnell. We all know where this is headed, but the ride is a pleasant enough one.

-- Doug Blackburn, Albany Times Union

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