Arturo Perez-Reverte: A Tale of Two Books

painter_of_battles.jpgThe Painter of Battles
Andrés Faulques, a world-renowned war photographer, has retired to a life of solitude on the Spanish coast. On the walls of a tower overlooking the sea, he spends his days painting a huge mural that pays homage to history’s classic works of war art and that incorporates a lifetime of disturbing images.

One night, an unexpected visitor arrives at Faulques’ door and challenges the painter to remember him. As Faulques struggles to recall the face, the man explains that he was the subject of an iconic photo taken by Faulques in a war zone years ago. “And why have you come looking for me?” asks Faulques. The stranger answers, “Because I’m going to kill you.”

Perez-Reverte’s latest novel isn’t easy or kind. It doesn’t spare its readers’ feelings or cushion the heartbreaking blows delivered by war. Even the observations on art – moments captured by brush or lens – are blurred by a certain sense of sadness that is hard to shake. But the reward of reading such a novel is found in an image that burns on the page: Beautiful, striking, and sometimes odd. It is to be found in a line that lingers in your memory, challenging you to think hard on its application in the nonfictional world you inhabit. At his core, Perez-Reverte is a master of both.

It’s hard to recommend The Painter of Battles because whether or not you will find it worthy of your time depends entirely on what you bring to it and, perhaps more importantly, what you do with it once it’s done.

On the other hand, there is a Perez-Reverte book that I can (and often do) enthusiastically recommend: The Flanders Panel.

A fifteenth-century painting by a Flemish master is about to be auctioned when Julia, aflanders_panel.jpg young art restorer, discovers a peculiar inscription hidden in a corner: Who killed the knight? In the painting, the Duke of Flanders and his knight are locked in a game of chess, and a dark lady lurks mysteriously in the background. Julia is determined to solve the five-hundred-year-old murder, but as she begins to look for clues, several of her friends in the art world are brutally murdered in quick succession. Messages left with the bodies suggest a crucial connection between the chess game in the painting, the knight’s murder, the sordid underside of the contemporary art world, and the latest deaths. Just when all of the players in the mystery seem to be pawns themselves, events race toward a shocking conclusion.

My very favorite of his novels! The tension in this one is often so tight you feel as though the spine will snap in your hands. An incredibly intelligent mystery with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the very end. Chess, art, intrigue – what more could you want?

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