This novel was recommended to me by a Spanish friend who advised Pérez-Reverte is a renowned author in Spain. The Flanders Panel begins with Julia who, in the process of restoring a fifteenth century painting, discovers a hidden inscription and a five hundred year old mystery. As she becomes embroiled in murder and threats against her own life, Julia seeks aid and support from her antiquarian father figure César, frivolous friend Menchu and the reserved chess mastermind Muñoz. Pérez-Reverte vividly describes each of his characters, including ruthless art dealers and their curious clientele.
The author’s talent in merging medieval history with a contemporary setting is admirable. He plays on history in such a way that I had to check whether the painter, artworks and dignitaries written about were factual or fictional.
Sadly, the intertwined chess references were lost on me as I have never developed an interest (or ability) in the game and I found myself glossing over paragraphs and diagrams which focused on the contest.
I would have liked Pérez-Reverte to elaborate on the uniqueness of Madrid a little more, especially given his wordiness throughout other aspects of the novel which I found hampered the suspense of the story. The Flanders Panel is a very intelligent piece of writing however and the ending took me by surprise.
“The clue to a murder in the art world of contemporary Madrid lies hidden in a medieval painting of a game of chess.
In the fifteenth-century Flemish painting two noblemen are playing chess. Yet two years before he could sit for the portrait, one of them was murdered. Now, in twentieth-century Madrid, Julia, a picture restorer preparing the painting for auction, uncovers an inscription that points to the crime. Quis necavit equitem? Who killed the knight? But as she teams up with a brilliant chess theoretician to retrace the moves, she discovers the deadly game is not yet over.”