Arturo Perez Reverte is one of the most interesting Spanish crime writers of modern times and The Flanders Panel, first published thirty years ago, is a fascinating example of his work. The story is set in Madrid, and in 1994 it was filmed as Uncovered, although as yet I haven't managed to see the movie version, which stars Kate Beckinsale as Julia, the art restorer from whose viewpoint the events of the story are seen.
The book begins with Julia's discovery of a Latin inscription hidden beneath a painting that she has been tasked with restoring prior to its sale. The painting depicts two knights playing a game of chess, watched by a woman. The inscription, translated, is :'who killed the knight?' Perhaps in the context of chess it could be interpreted as 'who captured the knight?' But Julia begins to wonder if the inscription is a clue to a crime of the past.
She confides in her mentor, an older gay man called Cesar, who represents a father figure. Her former lover also becomes involved, but is then found dead. Has he been murdered, and if so, by whom, and why? Do the elderly owner of the painting and his unlovely family members have something to hide? And what about another of Julia's friends, the glamorous but dissolute Menchu, who is also involved in the machinations to market the painting?
The story begins with a quote from a Jorge Luis Borges poem about chess, and the text includes numerous examinations of stages in the chess game in the painting, as a chess expert calls Munoz helps Julia to figure out what is going on. I like chess, but I think that even someone who doesn't play the game would find this story readable and pleasingly different. Recommended.