cover image Giotto's Hand: A Jonathan Agryll Mystery

Giotto's Hand: A Jonathan Agryll Mystery

Iain M. Pears. Scribner Book Company, $20.5 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-684-81460-5

British art dealer Jonathan Argyll's business is falling because--as a fellow dealer tells him--he cares too much about the stuff he works with and lacks the killer instinct. Both criticisms apply as well to the latest in Pears's series (afterThe Last Judgement, 1996) about Argyll and his two friends on Rome's Art Theft Squad, General Bottando and Flavia di Stefano. Pears certainly knows and loves his art; Argyll's pleasure and excitement at realizing that a forgotten sketch is a lost treasure bounces off the page. His writing is smooth and often delightful (""...he stirred sugar into his coffee and then sipped at the thick syrupy mixture that made life worthwhile""), and there's a jolly subplot as Bottando and Flavia get some revenge on a smarmy bureaucrat. But there's really only one murder here and very little action or danger as Argyll and Flavia as move through Italy and England on the trail of an art thief whom Bottando has nicknamed Giotto because of his expertise and virtual invisibility. And most readers will be disappointed by recognizing Giotto's identity long before Argyll does. (July)