The Flanders Panel

Arturo Perez-Reverte, Author, Margaret Jull Costa, Translator Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P $21.95 (294p) ISBN 978-0-15-148926-8
When an art restorer sets out to solve the riddle of a 15th-century masterpiece in this uneven but intriguing, multilayered thriller, she finds that one murder begets another, down through five centuries. Young, beautiful art expert Julia works in Madrid for the Prado as well as for various local galleries and auctioneers. Her painstaking cleaning of The Game of Chess , by Flemish master Pieter Van Huys, uncovers a Latin inscription--painted over by the artist--with the question ``Who killed the knight?'' Julia explores this mystery with the aid of Cesar, a middle-aged, homosexual antiques dealer who has become something of a surrogate father figure for her; Alvaro, her art professor ex-lover; and Munoz, a mildly antisocial chess master. When Alvaro dies--possibly murdered--Van Huys's riddle becomes relevant not only to the figures and chess pieces represented in his painting but also to Julia and her friends in this rather seamy art community. The author, a TV journalist in Spain, makes interesting use of the chessboard as metaphor for various human interactions, and his characters' sleuthy analysis of the painting's symbols and the details of its frozen chess game is clever and quite suspenseful. But the characters themselves are carelessly drawn cartoons--perhaps distorted in translation--and prone to rather sophomoric pronouncements on aesthetic and philosophical issues. And--highbrow pretensions aside--the whodunit aspect of the narrative is resolved unconvincingly, with disappointing conventionality. Film rights to Filmania. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/30/1994
Release date: 06/01/1994
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