Briefly Noted: The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Julia, a young art expert in Madrid, specializes in restoring paintings for auction. While restoring The Game of Chess by the 15th century Flemish painter Pieter Van Huys, she comes across a secret Latin inscription left by the painter which read, “Who killed the Knight?” The oil painting depicted two nobles involved in a game of chess and in the background, next to a window, lay a lady, dressed in black and reading a book that lay in her lap. One of the chess players was the Duke of Ostenburg and the other, a knight named Roger de Arras. The lady reading the book was Beatrice of Burgundy, the Duke’s consort.  According to history, by the time Van Huys painted the picture, Roger de Arras was dead and could not have posed for the picture. Thus the painter seems to have left a clue suggesting the identity of the killer.
With such a secret inscription revealing a Renaissance era murder, it was clear that the value of painting would go up and people involved in the deal start trying to backstab each other. As Julia tries to find out the identity of the 15th century murderer, a similar game starts in her life. Like chess pieces captured in the painting, people associated with her start getting killed. An invisible chess player starts leaving clues around and she has to figure out the identity of the modern killer.
After reading books like Steve Berry’s The Columbus Affair and Daniel Silva’s The Fallen Angel (which features an art restorer), it was quite refreshing to read this book.  Most of the historical thrillers I have read tend to be formulaic; this one was different and had multiple layers to it. It takes us to the world of art dealers, auctioneers and people who mint money in that world through nefarious schemes. The dialogue was not off a screenplay, but had depth; the people involved discussed mysteries involving chess, music, art, and fiction at both concrete and abstract levels. It was not an easy read compared to the books I mentioned, but it was worth it. Many thanks to my friend Fëanor for recommending it.

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