Author: Iain Pears
ISBN: 0-425-19189-3, Berkley Prime Crime, 2003
Genre: Amateur Sleuth, #3 Art History mystery
First Line: Jonathan Argyll lay contentedly on a large slab of Carrara marble, soaking up the mid-morning sun, smoking a cigarette and considering the infinite variety of life.
Hapless art dealer Jonathan Argyll has delivered a Titian painting to the Moresby Museum in Santa Monica, California, and expects payment momentarily. While he's waiting he's been observing, and what he's seen makes him glad he's not connected to the private museum. The Moresby Museum has no focus, due to the whims of its billionaire owner. The curator has grandiose plans for expansion, and the billionaire's family members seem to be spending most of their time trying to plot the museum's demise, since it's cutting into their inheritance.
At a party to celebrate the acquisition of a Bernini statue,the billionaire is killed, and the art dealer thought to have brought the Bernini statue with him from Italy is the prime suspect. However, Argyll knows di Souza and doesn't think he's capable of murder. After thinking over the entire situation, he makes a phone call to Italy and asks for the help of Flavia di Stefano of the Italian National Art Theft Squad.
Ever since I was a teenager and watched each week's episode of It Takes a Thief, I've had a weakness for jewel and art thieves. (Well, at least as portrayed by Robert Wagner and Fred Astaire!) Part of the charm of Pears' Art History series for me is the convoluted plot when someone has found a treasure, gets possession of it, and then tries to get it home free. The author's background in journalism and art history is perfect fodder for his series.
When I'm not learning interesting tidbits about art history, I'm learning about the culture of Italy-- a country that's always been high on the list of places I must visit.
It was his own fault; he crossed the wide boulevard which led past the Moresby and on to his hotel in the cavalier fashion he had adopted for dealing with Roman traffic, and discovered that drivers in California, while generally slower, are not nearly as accurate as their Italian counterparts. A Roman shaves past your legs and makes your trousers billow in the wind but disappears over the horizon with a triumphant hooting of the horn, leaving no real damage behind. The driver of this particular vehicle either had clear homicidal tendencies or little skill; he flashed past, saw Argyll, blew his horn and swerved at only the last moment, very nearly consigning Argyll to the hereafter in the process.
And if convoluted plots, art history and culture weren't enough, there are Pears' marvelous characters. The Englishman, Jonathan Argyll is an endearing bumbler who tends to see himself as Superman's younger athletic brother. Flavia di Stefano of the Art Theft Squad is extremely self-assured, very intelligent, and uses sarcasm to good effect. It's fun to watch these two play off each other.
Whenever I pick up one of Iain Pears' Art History mysteries, I know an intelligent, entertaining read is awaiting me.
Have you read any of the books in this series? What do you think of them?
[Source: Purchased through Bookcloseouts.com.]