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Challenging mystery suggests change of direction for series.
on 4 January 2003
Like Graham Greene, Pears writes both serious, philosophical novels (The Dream of Scipio and An Instance of the Fingerpost) and entertainments--in this case, the fascinating art history mysteries which feature Flavia di Stefano and her boss, Gen. Taddeo Bottando of the Rome police. These quirky detectives from the Art Theft Squad are back in action here, though with changed roles. Bottando is now semi-retired and Flavia, newly married to former art dealer Jonathan Argyll, is acting head of the department.
Life in Pears' Rome never pretends to be simple, and it's always loads of fun for the reader. Here the theft of a priceless painting on loan from the Louvre leads to the Italian prime minister's order to Flavia to find it, but she must not allow the public or the press to know about the theft, she must get it back no matter the cost, she must pay whatever ransom is demanded without using public funds, and she must do this knowing in advance that she will be a scapegoat--that the prime minister will publicly deny everything he's told her. As the search for the painting gets underway, further mysteries unfold, until even Bottando himself is implicated in an art theft.
Influence peddling, payoffs, and old political rivalries are both accepted and taken for granted here as Flavia negotiates the minefields of art and politics. The satire is gentle, and the action is non-stop. The intricacies of the characters' relationships keep the reader constantly challenged and always thinking, and the art history angle, more about provenance than about painters, should appeal to readers with little art background. The surprising conclusion and the major changes resulting to the lives of the main characters are stunning. If Pears continues this series, it will undoubtedly be in new directions. Mary Whipple