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Muse's Books

Books 144-146: Three Jonathan Argyll Art History Mysteries

There are seven short novels in this series of mysteries by art historian turned novelist Iain Pears written between 1990 and 2000. Although titled the 'Jonathan Argyll Mysteries' they as easily could be titled the Flavia di Stefano Mysteries for she plays a leading role in the stories as a member of Rome's Art Theft Squad. I tackled these out of order, as although I own all books I had access to these three on audio via the library, which assisted me as I am currently having problems with my vision.

Book 144: The Raphael Affair (Book 1).
Author: Iain Pears, 1990.
Genre: Art History. Mystery.
Other Details: Paperback. 208 pages. Unabridged audio book, Length: 6 hrs 15 mins. Read by Daniel Philpott.

The first in the series introduces Flavia and her boss General Bottando of the Italian National Art Theft Squad. Jonathan Argyll is a young Englishman in Rome finishing up his degree in art history. He believes that he may have discovered a lost work of Raphael concealed under a painting by Mantini in a failed attempt to smuggle the Raphael out of Italy during the 18th century. This claim sets off a chain of events including a shocking act of vandalism and murder.

In many ways this is a gentle old-fashioned mystery with Jonathan, Flavia and Bottando making a charming trio of characters and served as a promising opener for the series. Philpott does an excellent job with the voices of main and supporting characters including the gentle inflections of the guileless and sweet-natured Argyll.

Book 145: The Titan Committee (Book 2)
Iain Pears, 1991.
Genre: Art History. Mystery.
Other Details: Paperback. 248 pages. Unabridged audio book, Length: 6 hrs 20 mins. Read by Daniel Philpott.

A member of the famous research group, the Titian Committee, is found stabbed to death in a Venetian public garden. Flavia is sent by her boss to help the local carabinieri with the case though he doesn't expect she'll be doing more there than filling in her expense claims. At first the woman's death is thought to be a simple mugging but Flavia believes there is more going on. Jonathan Argyll is also in Venice seeking to buy some paintings for an English art dealer and the two team up when another member of the committee turns up dead.

Despite its short length Pears packs in quite a lot of plot and again the book is peppered with references to Italian art.

Book 146: The Immaculate Deception (Book 7)
Author: Iain Pears, 2000.
Genre: Art History. Mystery
Other Details: Paperback. 288 pages. Unabridged audio book, Length: 7 hours, 25 mins. Read by Daniel Philpott.

In the final book, Flavia is now Acting Chief of the Art Theft Squad while General Bottando is reassigned pending his upcoming retirement. When a famous painting on loan from the Louvre is stolen, the Italian Prime Minister leans hard on Flavia to get the painting back quickly and quietly before it becomes an international incident. Coupled with this Jonathan Argyll is undertaking an investigation of his own into the provenance of a small painting, an Immaculate Conception, owned by Bottando. He wants to present his findings as a gift for the General's retirement. However, both investigations led to the uncovering of a series of astonishing secrets and yes of course there is a murder too.

I do plan on reading the four other books in the series and I didn't feel particularly spoiled by knowing the final outcome for the three protagonists. Overall I found it a charming series with very likeable characters and a thread of warm humour. The relationship between Flavia and Jonathan is nicely developed and though I know its conclusion I do look forward to seeing how they got there. Certainly a series that is a delight for lovers of art history.
Tags: art, audio book, murder mystery

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