'This book dances with sunlight and colour, faded patinas and shifting standards, with humour and knowledge making easy companions' Mail on Sunday The monastery of San Giovanni has few treasures -- only a painting doubtfully attributed to Caravaggio. So Flavia di Stefano of Rome's Art Squad is surprised to receive a tip-off that a raid is being planned. The raid happens, but the thieves are disturbed and snatch the wrong painting, a curious icon of the Madonna, remarkable only for the affection in which it is held by the local population. Or is this what the thieves wanted all along? Does the legend of the icon's miraculous powers hold any clue? And who murdered the French dealer found in the Tiber soon afterwards? Flavia, with the help of English art dealer Jonathan Argyll, immerses herself in the intricacies and intrigues of monastic and police politics in an attempt to solve the double mystery, but the solution that awaits her is murkier and more complex than anyone could have known.
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Like An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears's Death and Restoration is grounded in a richly cultured vision rife with references to European history, art, and cuisine. And, though it represents the sixth novel in Pears's Jonathan Argyll series, the author subtly informs new readers of the key relationships and the past histories of his characters within the first three chapters. Once again, Argyll and his soon-to-be wife, Flavia di Stefano, are enmeshed in the Italian art world: Flavia, as a member of the Rome police's art squad and Argyll as a professor of art history.
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'KelleyAbout the Author:
Iain Pears won the Getty Scholarship to Yale University and worked for Reuters in Rome. He is the author of the bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost. He lives with his wife and son in Oxford.
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