Tuesday, August 3, 2010
THE IMMACULATE DECEPTION by Iain Pears
What a strange book for me to read. But I liked it.
At first glance, this book seems to be an esoteric art theft mystery. Then we learn that it has to do with Italian politics. And then, with so much more.
The book begins when Flavia di Stefano, acting director of the Rome Police's art theft department, investigates the theft of Claude Lorrain's Landscape with Cephalus and Procris. The Italian government had guaranteed the painting's safety.
Flavia is put in a position where no matter what she does, she will lose. What is happening is more political than strictly criminal. No matter how the investigation turns out, the government is looking for a scapegoat.
And, of course, the investigation leads to past, present, and future murders.
At one point, Flavia's husband, an expert in determining the provenance of art, finds himself thinking about what it means to learn the history of an artwork. "People often make the mistake of thinking that art dealing is all about art," he finds himself thinkng. "It isn't; it is all about information, and the person who knows what a picture is generally is in a stronger position than the one who merely owns it."
In other words, art leads to stories, and in this case, the stories lead to murder.
They also lead to corruption in the government. Almost all the government officials, including Flavia herself finally, are corrupt, some more than others.
One of the real fascinations of this book for me was in the way it portrayed Italian government.
When I wrote about The Brutal Telling, I said that book was a classic character study but so much more. I'd call this book a kind of classic in plotting. Its very complicated plot takes the book places which are not clear until almost the very end.
The Immaculate Deception was not nearly so compelling as The Brutal Telling, but it was interesting.
Needless to say, the general corruption in Italian politics and bureaucracy fascinated this old Italian whose father was born soon after his parents got off the boat from Italy.
So The Immaculate Deception is a particular kind of book. People interested in art mysteries and those looking for strongly-plotted mystery stories might well like it as much as I did.