cover image Death and Restoration: A Jonathan Argyll Mystery

Death and Restoration: A Jonathan Argyll Mystery

Iain M. Pears. Scribner Book Company, $22 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-684-81461-2

Pears, an art historian and author of the acclaimed historical novel, An Instance of the Fingerpost (1997), imbues his light-hearted art-world mystery series set in Italy (Giotto's Hand, 1997) with an enthusiast's love of his subject. Here, Jonathan Argyll, art dealer and lecturer, and his lover, Flavia di Stefano, an officer with Rome's Art Theft Department, investigate the theft of an ancient, seemingly worthless iconic painting of the Madonna from the Monastery of San Giovanni and the apparently related attack on the head monk. As Flavia investigates the theft, she runs into legendary art thief Mary Verney, icon dealer Peter Burckhardt and Daniel Menzies, a hot-tempered art restorer who is cleaning the monastery's second-rate Caravaggio. We learn that Mikis Charanis, the power-hungry son of Mary's former lover, has kidnapped her granddaughter; release is contingent on Mary stealing the icon for him. Then Peter Burckhardt is murdered, and the police must scramble to find motive and killer. After Jonathan learns the stolen icon is ""Our Lady,"" venerated by the people in the neighborhood for saving Rome from the plague long ago, he traces the icon's astonishing history and uncovers the monastery's unpleasant secrets. Although Flavia's suspects escape arrest, Jonathan fingers the real thief--and the motive--in an amusing finale. Pears again achieves a delicate, sure balance with a book simultaneously witty and instructive. (Oct.)