Friday, 30 October 2020

Forgotten Book - The Flanders Panel

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.


Marcia said...

I have seen the movie Uncovered -- in fact, I believe that I still own the DVD somewhere. I did enjoy the movie very much as I had searched it out after reading The Flanders Panel which I absolutely adored.

A couple of odd notes about the book and the movie.

I first read the book in hardcover and then in paperback. I have a very vivid recollection of the actual painting described in the book. However, when I have revisited both the hardcover and paperback versions, I am finding that there is no actual picture of the paining on either cover or inside the book -- at least, on any of the English language versions. So, where am I getting my memory? As my memory of the painting preceded my watching of the movie.

As for the movie, I read that Kate Beckinsale would really like to forget this movie and that she ever starred in it. She was at the very start of her career and, I believe, forced to do a nude scene for the movie... Also, the male romantic lead -- Paudge Behan -- had a rather checkered personal life. He was the lead suspect (although later cleared) in the murder of an elderly woman in Tuscany in 2008. Not sure if anyone was ever formally charged for the crime.

Marcia said...

Actually, an update to my post -- the real murderer was later caught so Paudge Behan was eventually cleared -- case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Martin Edwards said...

Interesting - thanks, Marcia.

MaityVictor said...

Agreed...I read the english paperback 8 years ago and its in my collection .I came to know about Reverte from watching Polanski's Ninth gate(I adore that movie) and picked up Flanders Panel & Seville Communion together . I really loved Flanders Panel . Amazing book and awsome writing style.

RJS said...

Excellent book. Contains a real retro chess puzzle which is a major clue to the mystery.

Chris Doby said...

This book is listed on and on Goodreads with a round mirror-type cameo on the cover. Seller, awesomebooks, says it is a paperback book:


Cover shows a cameo with two medieval guys playing chess with a blonde woman in the background. Publisher is Flamingo Books. I suspect this is the British edition.

I personally have a different recollection of a picture where there is a chessboard and the surface is being peeled off to show part of the Flanders Panel. It may be a figment of my imagination. :-) Chris Doby