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The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte

The Flanders Panel (original 1990; edition 2004)

by Arturo Perez-Reverte

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2,721592,168 (3.67)130
Title:The Flanders Panel
Authors:Arturo Perez-Reverte
Info:Harvest Books (2004), Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (Author) (1990)

  1. 10
    The Eight by Katherine Neville (isabelx)
    isabelx: Historical mysteries involving chess.
  2. 10
    Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco (Patangel)
  3. 00
    le nom de la rose (Patangel)
  4. 00
    Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter (P_S_Patrick)
    P_S_Patrick: Arturo Perez-Reverte has recieved inspiration for his excellent mystery thriller from Hofstadter's Godel Escher Bach, even without some of the chapter introduciton quotes, that much is clear. He uses the bewildering Escherian theme of worlds within a world, Godels incompleteness theorum is alluded to in the monologue of one character, and Bach is discussed in relevance to the mystery too, along with a few miscellaneous paradoxes which are also slipped in, in a similar spirit in which they permeate the more complex non-fictional work. Non-fiction readers who have enjoyed GEB should be amused by the Flanders panel, and I think they should enjoy it even if they do not often indulge themselves in reading fiction. It would be harder to recommend GEB to fans of the Flanders Panel, due to its sheer length, but if you were intrigued by the themes in the story then it should at least be worth finding GEB in a library and dipping into it.… (more)

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English (46)  Spanish (6)  French (4)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  All languages (59)
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The Flanders Panel
by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
translated by Margaret Jull Costa
Bantam, 1996
ISBN 0-553-37786-8 (paperback), 296 p.

Review date: October 2015

I'll admit it, I was a big fan of The Da Vinci Code, so when I happened upon Arturo Pérez-Reverte's bestseller, The Flanders Panel (1996), in a thrift shop and read the back cover blurb, I was drawn in. Flipping through the book, reading the quotes at the beginning of each chapter, I got hooked: Borges, Lewis Carroll, Conan Doyle—a number of my favorite authors and themes were included. I expected to enjoy this tale, which predated Brown's bestseller by a decade. And until about halfway through, I really did enjoy it. But then it quickly unraveled; by the end, everything had fallen apart, and I felt a great deal of disappointment when I finished.

The story is set in Madrid, Spain, where an art restorer by the name of Julia uncovers a hidden message in a 15th-century Dutch painting. The painting is of two men playing chess, while a woman looks on. The message, hidden beneath layers of paint, asks, in Latin, Who killed the knight? With the help of an art historian, who also happens to be an ex-lover, Julia uncovers the identities of the painting's subjects: The Duke of Ostenburg, his wife, Beatrice of Burgundy, and his friend, Roger de Arras, a knight. She learns too, of the intrigue surrounding them at court, and of the historical circumstances surrounding Sir Roger's death. But she begins to suspect there's more to the story. that the answer to the question is hidden in the chess game depicted in the painting. And when Álvaro, the art historian, turns up dead, she's certain she's right, and that somebody is trying to cover up the discovery—but who could it be? Why should a 500-year-old death mean anything to the modern world? Thus, the mystery begins. Along with her longtime friend and father-figure, César, her colleague, Menchu, and a chess expert by the name of Muñoz, the race is on to uncover the centuries-old murderer and, as bodies begin to pile up around them, to stop another murderer in the present.

Chess, conspiracy, art, mysterious murders, symbolism—there was so much about this book to like. But there was so much not to as well. The farther I read, the more two-dimensional I realized most of the characters were, and while I dealt with that because the central mystery was intriguing, that mystery was actually solved before the midpoint. The rest of the book was devoted to the modern murders. That was a little less interesting, but I continued reading because I wanted to know who was responsible for continuing the cover-up. Was it the descendants of the murderer? Perhaps politicians or royalty who thought that a change in history would have an impact on their status? Maybe even the Priory of Sion? (OK, just kidding about that last one.) The answer? No. None of them. Turns out that it's much more mundane, and that the motive is completely contrived, and a bit insulting to the culprit. I mean, I started to suspect who it might be and included that person among my list of suspects, but I hoped I was wrong. I at least had come up with a fanciful motive that maybe could have justified it, but in the end, it was honestly just ridiculous.

I thought for a while that I'd be giving this book at least three-and-a-half stars. The ending made me want to give it one-and-a-half. I've compromised. It gets two-and-a-half, and that's really mostly for the first seven chapters. Apparently, this book was compared to The Name of the Rose in reviews. That's an insult to Umberto Eco. Honestly, in literary quality, Reverte's work falls somewhere between that of Dan Brown and Eco, and for the first half of it, I expected it to be closer to Eco's. But to be honest, by the end, even Brown proved himself a better storyteller; at least The Da Vinci Code, as fantastical as it is, is more tightly woven and, in the end, believable.

The Flanders Panel isn't a book to be avoided, but it's not high on my list of recommendations. If you want a rainy-afternoon thriller, you can find worse, but I'm sure you can find better ones as well. And then, if you really want to torture yourself, you can seek out the film version, 1994's Uncovered. At least it makes the book seem better by comparison.



2½ stars: Better than average. Whereas many reviewers tend to be more generous, most works I rate receive two or three stars. At this rating, all my expectations have been met; there are few technical, conventional, or factual flaws, if any, and I found the work to be mildly entertaining and/or sufficiently informative, but it wouldn't be at the top of my list of recommendations. A 2½-star work is better than just "OK" but I wouldn't quite call it "good". Equivalent to a school grade of 'B-', or a little better than average. ( )
1 vote tokidokizenzen | Oct 30, 2015 |
This book is set in Madrid and offers suspense, deceit, the world of art history, friendship and betrayal, the intricacies of chess, and murder. Julia is an art restorer who is working on a painting from the fifteenth century, which shows a noble, his lady, a knight and a chess game in progress. As Julia and her friends try to answer the question of who killed the knight with the clues in the painting, the game reaches out to the present time and threatens Julia and her friends. The characters of Munoz, a socially inept chess genius, and Julia’s mentor, Cesar, are well drawn. To me it was a letdown and confusing in the solving of the mystery of who is the murderer in modern Madrid; the motivation did not seem sufficient for me. But now I want to read the author’s Captain Alatriste books, and have bought two more of his books.
I read the Bantam/Harcourt Brace edition. ( )
  hangen | Oct 13, 2015 |
Julia, an art restorer,discovered a hidden inscription beneath layers of paint and lacquer while working on a 15th Century painting--The Game of Chess. Part of her job is to uncover the back history of the painting, including information about the individuals in the painting.

This book, like the painting itself, functions on multiple levels while introducing knowledge, subterfuge, murder and fear into the story. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was both surprised and satisfied by the conclusion. I will seek out more books by this author. ( )
  cfk | May 24, 2014 |
Julia, a young but highly respected art restorer, has been hired by her friend Menchu to restore a 15th century Flemish panel, The Game of Chess, which will be sold at auction in a few weeks. Using X-ray photography, Julia has discovered a hidden Latin inscription on the painting: who killed the knight? What does it mean? Does it refer to the knight in the painting, or to a knight in the chess game depicted in the painting? Julia needs to know more about the painting's history and the three people in the scene. She enlists the help of her friend and father figure César, her ex-lover Álvaro, and an enigmatic chess master, Muñoz. Julia's quest to solve a 500-year-old murder sets off a fresh chain of murders. Will Julia uncover the painting's mysteries in time to save her own life?

The author tried to do too much in a fairly short book. I was fascinated by the art history, the painting's Renaissance setting, and the intricacies and layers of the chess game depicted in the painting. The added twist of Freudian psychoanalysis was too much. The suspense built through the clues in the chess game, the modern murders, and Julia's near escapes is wasted by the lengthy explanation required to tie all of the plot elements together. The idea is better than its execution. I also had a hard time accepting Julia as one of the best art restorers in the field. Wouldn't an expert know better than to chain smoke in front of a valuable painting she's supposed to be restoring? ( )
  cbl_tn | May 10, 2014 |
Read as a trashy mystery novel, there's really nothing objectionable about this, although for some reason, I was really expecting more. Especially galling was the villain, complete with a needlessly complicated, and mostly pointless, plan that seems to exist only so that the novel might exist. When the villain finally gives an explanatory monologue at the end, the rationale is, quite frankly, kind of offensive (and it feels unintentionally so).

The chess and historical subplots ended up seeming rather superficial. The chess, especially, seemed far too elementary to hang much of a plot on, while simultaneously being treated with far too much reverence and symbolic import by the characters. ( )
  jawalter | Nov 18, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pérez-Reverte, ArturoAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Costa, Margaret JullTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kallio, KatjaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Quijano, Jean-PierreTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Julio and Rosa, Devils's advocates
And for Cristiane Sánchez Azevedo
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A sealed envelope is an enigma containing further enigmas.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156029588, Paperback)

Julia, a young Madrid art restorer, is pulled into a shadowy world of metaphor when she discovers a long-covered inscription on a Flemish painting: Who killed the knight? Art, chess and murder are intertwined in this elegant, seductive mystery in the manner of The Name of the Rose.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:58 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

When Julia is cleaning a 15th century Flemish painting, in a corner she finds the words: "Who killed the knight?" As she investigates the mystery, she becomes mixed up with several late 20th century unscrupulous characters.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 4 descriptions

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