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The Immaculate Deception Hardcover – October 30, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
Jonathan Argyll, accompanied by his new wife, Flavia di Stefano, makes his seventh appearance in this confusing case of a stolen painting, murder and intrigue, following 1998's well-received An Instance of the Fingerpost. Antonio Sabauda, the Italian prime minister, asks Flavia, now acting head of the national art squad, to recover Claude Lorraine's Landscape with Cephalis and Procris, stolen from an Italian museum while on loan from the Louvre. Flavia, however, must not use public money for the requested ransom. As Flavia's former boss, Gen. Taddeo Bottando, has told her, "Prime ministers? Oh, they can ruin your life." She finds this is true on many levels. Meanwhile, Argyll, the art expert, is snooping into the provenance of a small painting owned by Bottando. Soon Argyll and Flavia find that almost everyone they talk to in their respective investigations has a hidden agenda. Who is behind all the shady goings-on in the art world? Is it Prime Minister Sabauda, General Bottando or another person with something to protect? Ultimately, as people's motives become clearer and one corpse after another turns up, Argyll and Flavia find that they have to make some very disturbing choices involving their own sense of morality. A personal secret that Flavia harbors until the end adds some intrigue. While the author nicely portrays the Italian art world, readers looking for a scintillating mystery will have to seek elsewhere.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The success of Pears' majesterial literary thriller An Instance of the Fingerpost (1998) has brought renewed attention to his outstanding series of art mysteries starring erstwhile art-history professor Jonathan Argyll and his wife, Flavia di Stefano, of the Rome police's art theft squad. This seventh in the series may well be the best yet. Change is in the wind from multiple directions: Jonathan and Flavia, only recently married, are stunned to discover they will soon be parents, and Flavia, acting head of the art squad, learns that her mentor and former boss, General Bottando, will be retiring--and she is by no means a sure thing to succeed him as permanent head of the department. Then the bizarre theft of a painting on loan to Italy from the Louvre leads to a decades-old case of murder and political corruption that further ensnares Flavia in a bureaucratic sinkhole. Meanwhile, Argyll is traipsing about Tuscany, where he stumbles into some remarkable discoveries that seem to link Bottando to the stolen painting. Art-themed mysteries possess natural appeal (stealing a painting is such an irresistibly sophisticated crime), but too often the art-history lessons are unsuccessfully melded to the plot. Not so here, as Pears masterfully incorporates the missing painting's history into the fabric of the story. Best of all, though, is his wonderful grasp of the moral ambiguity at the heart of Italian life. Bottando and Flavia possess that uniquely Italian grasp of the inevitability of corruption, and the English Argyll is catching on quite nicely. The result is a wonderfully appealing cast of characters whose abiding distrust of institutions forms the bedrock of their commitment to each other. Despite their profoundly ironic view of the world, Pears' people are by no means melancholy cynics; rather, they possess a joie de vivre that seems to flow from the startling discovery that, even in a world soiled by universal corruption, on the one hand, and deadly idealism, on the other, it's still possible to look at beautiful pictures or enjoy a delicious lunch. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
This book is a delightful addition to the previous entries in this series, although at time the action becomes a little to convoluted for belief. A heartily enjoyable book in a wonderful series. Deduct one star for the small amount of interaction between the main characters (Flavia & Jonathan)- they are a riot when they are detecting together. In this book they spend most of their time jaunting about independently, only meeting up again briefly for the conclusion.
Pears has left himself an opening with the end of this book to either end the series or to proceed with it in a slightly new direction. One can only hope that he is currently working on the next Flavia-Jonathan mystery....
"The Immaculate Deception" is one of seven books Pears has written that center around his detective Flavia di Stefano and her long-time fiance, now husband, art history professor Jonathan Argyll. This story finds Flavia summoned by no less personage than the prime minister. In this meeting she is told that a painting that was to be borrowed and displayed as part of an exhibition has been stolen. She is to get it back as quickly as possible and to guarantee that no one hears anything about the theft. The recovery process seems just as much of a mystery as to who stole the picture, and for what purpose, in the first place. In the meantime, Jonathan finds himself drawn into a different mystery, concerning the unknown heritage of a small painting owned by Flavia's former boss, General Bottando, who is soon to retire. As each digs further into their own mysterious trails, they soon come to see that the two stories quite possibly are connected to one another.
Iain Pears is an extremely intelligent writer, whose doctorate in art history is evident in the knowledge his characters have at their disposal. His descriptions of the world in which Jonathan and Flavia live are sometimes clipped, as though he expects readers to know as much as him. And even though these books are a series and therefore have some information recapped to the reader in each book, it never seems repetitive or second-hand. That is because the reader has come to know these characters, and smiles at these recaps in fond memory of those former stories. "The Immaculate Deception" is a fascinating web of art history, theft, high crimes and murder. It will keep readers guessing to the very end, when the loose ends are tied up, even if in an unconventional manner.
This story artfully intertwines the lives of Mary Verney, (everyones favorite art thief) with that of Taddeo Bottando-Flavia's boss, and the handy work of the two "detectives". Taddeo actually takes center stage in this novel for a while, which is a refreshing change of pace. We learn about how he became a part of Italy's Art Theft Squad, and how he plans to leave it.
The book also holds two major surprises, both dealing with issues close to Flavia. Iain's latest may be his greatest, and certainly leaves us hanging on for the next novel in this series of Art History Mysteries.