The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
I have a little Ado Annie thing for Arturo Pérez-Reverte since I am evidently incapable of not reading his books no matter how unfulfilling they almost always are for me. Well this week I was intoxicated by checking out a new library and somehow stumbled onto The Flanders Panel by Mr. Pérez-Reverte. And, man, am I glad I did.
The Flanders Panel is an exciting little mystery about art restoration, obscure Flemish history, and, perhaps above all, chess. These aren’t topics that inherently send a thrill through me, but the combination was perfect. The only downsides were the necessity of endless exposition about all three since your average reader is probably not an expert in any of them. Slightly silly speeches explaining chess boards and how to identify the pieces are scattered throughout and Mr. Pérez-Reverte makes his characters sum up what they’ve learned perhaps too many times. It’s nice to have the pieces of the mystery laid out a few times so you know where you stand, but they seemed to do it with too much frequency and too obviously (i.e. one character repeatedly makes lists of what is known and what isn’t). Helpful, but it seemed out of place.
Those minor complaints aside, the book is impressively brainy and once again reminds me how smart Mr. Pérez-Reverte must be to write the books he does. The three I’ve read have had absolutely nothing in common in their subject matter (just imagine the research he must do for each one!) and are only connected by the same eloquence and evident erudition Mr. Pérez-Reverte brings to all his books, even the ones I’ve been disappointed by for one reason or another.
The characters in The Flanders Panel are, like many of Mr. Pérez-Reverte’s other creations, very real but also somewhat enigmatic. Just because they are the players in this drama does not mean they feel any compunction to tell us readers everything there is to know about them. This serves to make them more interesting and more shadowy, which is especially nice in a mystery.
Mr. Pérez-Reverte also excels in this book at creating situations that are creepy but not horrifying, mysterious but not nerve-wracking. This is mystery at its Conan Doylesque best rather than some mash-up of horror and mystery that is far more common on the mystery shelves these days. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’d highly recommend this book to anyone interested in art restoration, Flemish history, or chess. More helpfully, I’d pass this on to anyone just looking for a great mystery to pass these hot summer days with. It’s a good one.