Customer Reviews: The Flanders Panel
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on July 29, 2001
I'm a chessplayer. The theme of this book caught my attention and, in many ways, lived up to its promise. The chess and real life dramas are woven smoothly, and the chess strategy and reasoning made sense (with one or two moments of artistic license). The opening intrigued me, the middle game complicated matters, and the endgame brought things to a tidy conclusion.
I couldn't help but wonder if I was missing some of the writer's heart in the translation. The characters are expertly crafted, but lacked heart and connection with me. Although I enjoyed the moves of the deadly game, I had little feeling for those that give their lives in the course of the chess maneuvering. The language, while tight and European-sounding, seemed to be a bit generic at points.
Overall, the threads of the mystery draw tighter and tighter and the author leaves a few surprises for the reader. Some may find intrigue in the chess aspects or the art aspects...I found myself primarly drawn into the strategizing of the villain and those trying to unmask the villain's identity. The suspense was based on the unfolding strategy, such as in a game of chess. And I was captured. Check and mate.
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on July 26, 2000
I've read most of Perez-Reverte's texts, and "The Flanders Panel" -- his debut -- is vintage material. Often compared to the work of Italian intellectualist-author Umberto Eco, Perez-Reverte engages new themes and topics in each work, delving into them with a passion and interest that I can't help but find impressive -- in each case, the details are sufficient to let the characters pass for experts, but not overwhelming or boring.
In TFP, the topics du jour are art restoration, historical intrigues, and chess, and the three blend together to create a sinister and satisfying thriller -- I took this one down in about four hours, while on vacation at the beach, and was hooked as soon as the real action started. (Give it about 20-25 pages before you put it down the first time.)
Using the process of a chess game to drive the action of the book, Perez-Reverte manages to make an often-dull game vibrant, exciting, and threatening. I'm a chess fan, myself, but you don't have to be to get into, wrapped up in, or to the end of this book. Diagrams are included to show each move in the "game" that unfolds, and the action on the board is mirrored in real life -- a sinister murder for each piece captured on the table. The characters are believable and well-written, and P-R's prose, as usual, flows well and feels good going down.
If anything disappoints, it might be the ending. Like "The Club Dumas", another fantastic intelli-thriller, the ending feels a bit rushed, and less complete than you're led to expect... it IS plausible, and it ISN'T obvious, and that's enough to make it passable. A rushed ending, however, does not kill a good read, and that, in the end, is what TFP is: a nice, quick, engaging and intellectual thriller, and a nice debut for a promising author. If the comparisons to Eco are inaccurate, it is because Eco tends to give excessive thought and explanation to each theme in his novels, while Perez gives you just enough background info to get you excited, and then runs with it.
BOTTOM LINE: A good strong intellectual thriller for those who find Mary Higgins Clark and her kind just a bit too formulaic. Perez-Reverte scores.
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VINE VOICEon December 3, 1999
Arturo Perez-Reverte is an amazing writer, truly gifted not only in the art of spinning a creative and sophisticated mystery but also in jumping the cultural and historical boundaries.
This book (as is The Club Dumas) is a bibliomystery fan's dream come true. Julia, a woman who restores paintings for a living, is asked to help restore a fifteenth-century masterpiece, the painting depicts a chess game between the Duke of Flanders and his knight - but within it is a hidden message - Who Killed The Knight and thus the novel begins.
This book is filled to the brim with fascinating information about art, history and chess. If you liked this book you should run out and get The Eight by Katherine Neville- is another stunner!
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on October 8, 2010
I enjoyed The Club Dumas by the same author, and the premise of this book sounded promising. Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations at all.

A huge part of the problem for me was the characters. They are pretentious beyond belief, the kind of people you would never want to know. A pretentious character now and again isn't bad: obviously you do not need to like all the characters in a book. However, I didn't like characters that weren't supposed to be "bad". I don't think there was a single person in this book I cared about, at all. The worst part, though, is how much they seemed just to be vehicles for the author to say "look how smart I am!" There is a faux-intellectualism that pervades this book and makes it really hard to enjoy.

While I was reading this book, I would periodically read off passages to my significant other so we could both laugh at how ridiculous the dialogue was. I wish I had bookmarked them, or noted them all down, because there were some great moments of unintentional comic relief. I only remember one, and I was able to look it up through Google Books to quote verbatim: "I'll stab you to death if you do. Like José in Mérimée's Carmen."

To me, this line epitomizes the book. The character talked about stabbing only to reference Carmen, in a really clunky way. But even worse, it seems as though he (and thus the author) is saying "not only am I familiar with Carmen, I know that Bizet based his much more well-known opera on a work by Mérimée." As a lone line in a book that was otherwise well-written, I would have passed this by without much thought. But given that the whole tone of the book is like this, it just further serves to illustrate the attempts at intellectualism falling flat.

By the end, I didn't care who killed whom. I just have a hard time not finishing a book that I've started, no matter how bad. I can't give this book one star: it's not pure and utter dreck, and I can see how it could be enjoyable to some people. But it truly is one of the worst books that I've finished.
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on August 4, 2000
I am a great fan of Arturo Perez-Reverte, and this book does not disappoint.
The main characters - the frustrated art restorer who lives on caffeine and nicotine, the middle-aged gay friend who still maintains an aura of intellectuality and manages to seduce the young boys, the female art dealer of a certain age who keep male comany with her American Express card, the lonly chess player who is shy but ultimately the most intelligent individual - they are all drawn in loving detail. Like the fifteenth century flemish painting that starts the action in this book, Arturo manages to paint all the details so they sparkle in the light from the main story.
The story is a wonderful convoluted mystery-within-a-mystery narrative of the type that Arturo does so well. I could not help but to be drawn in to the mystery: I was guessing and deducing along with all the charaters in the book.
Some of the auxiliary charaters are sketched with less care. They appear stereotyped and for this I have deducted one star in the rating. However, it is like a great painting with a poor frame: of course it detracts from the overall experience, but the painting is still a masterpiece.
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on November 22, 2000
I was a bit disappointed with this book. It started off promisingly enough, with the "mystery in the painting theme", but once the focus moved to the "chess game", it lost steam fast. Some reviewers have complained about the chess emphasis, on the grounds they really didn't have enough background to follow it. Coming from the other side, i.e. I do play chess, I found much of the chess aspects to be at best annoying, and at worst, ridiculous. The game itself is almost an impossible position, and the "moves" are ludicrous. All the chess "experts" in the book have no clue on how to play chess whatsover and would constantly make laughable judgements about chess in general, and the game in particular. Now granted, the emphasis of the book is not to be an accurate representation of chess, but rather a mystery. But can you imagine writing a book where baseball is the central theme, and basically not knowing much about it, but then pontificating in your writing to the point of annoying anyone who understands or has played the game? I guess I got to the point where I was so annoyed about the chess aspect, I just wanted the book to be over, and didn't care who the murderer was. And given the fact that I was thoroughly enjoying the first few chapters, that is a sorry way to end things...
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on June 11, 1998
I enjoyed reading this book very much. Not being a chess expert I may have enjoyed it more than some reviewers that complained that the chess puzzle was not clever. I suppose it is true that not being an expert of chess helped me be interested in the book, yet, in spite of that, if you are a chess expert, lighten up and enjoy anyway. Mr Perez Reverte is a journalist and a writer, not Jose Raul Capablanca. the plot was nicely laid and the writing very good, and the only reason I did not rate this a full 5 stars was because some of the characters, Julia and Munoz, kind of diasppointed me, but I also suspect that the author never meant to give us perfect human beings. And also, I felt I got the answer of who killed (took) the knight too soon. I certainly recommend this book to anyone wanting a mystery with style. Finally, I simply am amazed that one reviewer called this book homophobic. How can someone so misread a book?
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on February 8, 1999
The idea is fantastic. A painting has a chess game, reverse solving which leads to the solution of an ancient murder. But the author does not stop there - he wants to strech the plot into modern times instead of leaving well enough alone. The last half of the book was not beleivable - some of the writing and ideas were beautiful but the story lost its reason for being after the initial mystery was solved. But the first half was exactly right! I was involved in the chess moves, found the connection between the chess game, the painting and the characters very real and in general had a great time reading it. The sheer enjoyment of the first 135 or so pages carried me the whole way through, but in retrospect I wish the author waould have stopped sooner - I would have then considered it a masterpeice
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on September 28, 2000
Endings matter. Whether it's a novel, a love affair, or a game of chess, the whole tends to be colored by the denouement. Bungle the finale and you have to question the value of the entire enterprise.
The end of "The Flanders Panel" is forced, shabby, and crude, which is a real shame because it's such a good novel otherwise. It has sympathetic, fully realized characters in a skillfully developed plot. Fascinating details of art history are embedded in the story, and the use of chess as the key to one of the crucial plot elements was an inspired move.
So, if you can stomach a sloppy finish, then by all means read this book. You might even enjoy it enough to forget the ending.
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VINE VOICEon July 2, 2003
I am quite pleased with this novel. It starts out with a rather intriguing question, Who took the knight? With such a lackadaisical beginning, Arturo Perez-Reverte begins a masterpiece of storytelling and intrigue.
But, before I continue with wonder and awe at the ability of the author to link 500-year apart events, let me make two technical notes. First, the translator was a breath of fresh air. I am hesistant to pick up novels by foreign authors, despite wonderful reviews, simply because the translations are often so sketchy. I don't know if it is the languages (Russian and German seem especially hard to understand), or if it is merely poor translation of phrases, but translated works often leave me wanting for more. Second, I have read all of the comments about understanding chess, and I think that they are a bit silly. Granted, you have to know what chess is and have an inquiring mind to care about the retroanalysis sections (which were fascinating, by the way), but you should have that kind of attitude toward learning anything new in a book, be it art history, archaeology, numismatics, or whatever the case may be. Just because it is chess doesn't mean that it is hard to understand.
Anyway, the technical parts aside, there was only one part of the book that I could have done without: The "flashbacks" (if such a term is accurate for memories that don't belong to any of the main characters) are interesting enough and are fun, but how real can they be? The Renaissance was a completely different time, and, like any different culture, is likely completely not understandable by us today.
But for that, I enjoyed the entire book, even the ending that is losing stars on other reviews. I believe that most of the people who criticize it don't understand it, but if you read carefully the comments of all of the characters (in the whole book; you can't start slacking toward the end), you will understand why the antagonist did what he/she did.
Enjoy this book. Buy it, rent it, I don't care, but enjoy it and think about all that it represents. Then, pass it along and discuss it with others. It is a treasure, far greater than the piece of art which it spends so much time discussing.
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