Given my experiences with the writings of Spanish authors, especially Arturo Perez-Reverte, and their style, I was a bit reluctant to lay my hands of “The Flanders Panel ” (La tabla de Flandes). But then, I find chess-involved storyline hard to resist, and surprisingly, the book didn’t really step down into the pits of gloom.
Julia is a young artist and art restorer who is restoring a painting called “A Game of Chess” by a fifteenth century Flemish master, for an auction. When an x-ray of the painting reveals a painted over description “Qvis Necavit Eqvitem” (Latin, meaning Who killed the Knight?), Julia and her friend/guardian César decide to solve the 500 year old mystery.
Convinced that the game in the painting holds the key to the solution, they take help of a local chess-master, Muñoz. But just when they decipher the clues of the chess board, the art historian they are working with is found dead. It seems someone is bent on taking the game of chess forward, with very real (and very deadly) results.
Julia is surrounded by such expected characters of art world as an old art dealer who flaunts her sexuality, young “confused” artists and the dealers/patrons “guiding” them to recognize themselves, auction house executives who will easily stab each other in the back just to get that elusive/famous painting. Other common characters, like an “old money” client selling his painting in his destitute years, his relatives who want some restitution for the years they took care of him, also make an appearance.
Perez-Reverte’s novels often have strong female characters in the centre, and this novel is not much different. Julia is an independent and confident young woman, and while she will run to César for problems and accept help from Munoz she doesn’t really need any knight in shining armour to pull her through.
César, the “flamboyant old queen”, is her confidant and guardian, who brought up the almost orphan Julia and continues to be her father figure and closest friend. Muñoz, the chess player, is another typical tormented, mildly anti-social, shy around women character whom regular Perez-Reverte readers will easily recognize.
The painting and the game of chess almost make up another main character in the novel, given that the entire storyline revolves around the chess game coming to life. It is always fun to “play” the game in your mind while the story goes on around you (don’t say it, I am a proud nerd when it comes to chess).
If you like art and/or chess with your daily dose of good mystery, this is a novel for you. And don’t worry, like his later novels, this won’t drown you in gloom and then add a dash of depression to taste.
Quote of The Day:
Many have become Chess Masters, no one has become the Master of Chess.
– Siegbert Tarrasch
Read review of “The Club Dumas” here.