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The Flanders Panel


Arturo Perez-Reverte

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  Modern fiction/murder mystery  
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So, there's this female art restorationist named Julia (you can see why I fell for this book, being an artist myself.) She's asked to restore a 1471 German painting called "The Game of Chess" which shows a Duke and a Knight playing chess with a dark robed lady sitting by the window behind them. When she gets the x-rays of the painting back (typical first procedure), it shows the unexpected results of a hidden inscription that translates to "Who killed the Knight?"

Julia proceeds to track down clues to solve the mysterious identity of the Knight and who might have killed him. She is joined in her quest by several very interesting characters. César is a very rich gay man who raised Julia as his own when she was orphaned at a young age. Munoz is an enigmatic chess master who rarely allows himself to win a game. Julia's best friend, Menchu, is a crass yet very influential art dealer who regardless of her age always has some young hot stud on her arm. With these and a host of other characters, the mystery proceeds, becoming much more immediate and personal when Julia's ex is found dead in his apartment shortly after giving her some historical information about the painting.

Did the ex really slip and hit his head? Why would someone want to kill him? Who is the mysterious owner of the painting, and why does he want Sotheby's to sell it? Is Roger de Arras really the Knight in the painting, and if so, how was it done, since he died years before the painting was done? All of these questions and more must be answered before the game plays out, this time with modern people dying as chess pieces when the game moves forward from the one painted in the picture.

This book is a very quick read. The writing is modern, fast paced and accessible. The character descriptions are subtly accurate, down to offhanded mentions of the perfumes the people wear. It's obvious the author has taken the time to research the process of art restoration. His descriptions of Julia's state of mind, getting “lost in the painting” and even her slow wash of the painting with a q-tip to remove the aged varnish all ring true to my experiences when I (briefly) studied this art. The chess as well is explained simply, incorporating the explanations into the story and allowing the reader to follow the logic of moves. I highly recommend this one and will likely re-read it.

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