Friday, 28 May 1999
Iain Pears: Death and Restoration (1996)
Review number: 261
One of Pears' series of art-related detective stories built round the character of art-dealer Jonathan Argyll, Death and Restoration is an extremely well put together crime novel. Argyll is taking a break from his profession to lecture students in Rome on the less well known art treasures of that city. His girlfriend, Flavia, works in the Italian police, in the department specialising in fine art crime. When she hears that an old acquaintance of the couple, charming thief Mary Verney, has returned to Rome, she is concerned to keep an eye on her. Before long, Mary is the chief suspect in a crime that doesn't quite add up. An ageing priest, head of an obscure order of monks, is seriously injured during a robbery at the church of the order; but not only is violence out o Mary's character, but the wrong picture seems to have been taken. The reputed Caravaggio, the order's main artistic treasure, has been ignored in favour of a small icon of the Virgin Mary, probably brought to the monastery hundreds of years before by a refugee from the Turkish conquest of Constantinople.
The story of Death and Restoration is quite ingenious, the novel falling into the category of crime novels where the identity of the villain is not difficult to work out, while the precise nature of the villainy and its motivation is kept obscure and provides the main interest of the plot.