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The suspense of the novel is sustained by the careful revelation of the central art-theft plot; in turn, each major character becomes the narrative center and offers an expanded understanding of the events at San Giovanni. While Argyll is troubled over his fiancée's frequent absences just prior to their wedding, Flavia feels compelled to keep odd hours. She's certain that her old nemesis, Mary Verney, has returned to Rome with the intention of committing a major new theft. And Verney, readers soon learn, is herself in jeopardy. She must steal a Madonna icon from the monastery--despite the close scrutiny she faces from the Rome police force--because the sadistic Mikis Charanis has kidnapped Verney's granddaughter, 8-year-old Louise, and he will only release the child when Verney has acquired the artifact from San Giovanni. Underlying each character's concerns is the mystery of the Madonna itself. Why does Charanis covet this piece over the more valuable, though still dubious, Caravaggio that is also in the monastery? In the end, the novel is a perfect melding of a tightly composed mystery plot, witty dialogue, and a realistic sense of character, all flowing from an intellectual's appreciation for the finer things in life. For readers who discovered Pears's fiction through An Instance of the Fingerpost, the Argyll series--particularly Death and Restoration--offers much to satiate the need for his pleasantly baroque sensibilities. Other works in the Argyll series include The Raphael Affair, The Titian Committee, The Bernini Bust, The Last Judgement, and Giotto's Hand. --Patrick O'Kelley
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