I read this for a mailing list discussion
so I'll probably wait until the discussion
begins in mid-April to comment on it other than
to say that it's pretty much assured a place on my
top ten mysteries of the year list.
[The rest of my comments are taken from a mailing list discussion and as such contain spoilers!]
[on the setting]
OK, from a quick glance through all the answers over the weekend it
looks like I'm going to be one of the few people here who really
enjoyed this book so I'd better get on and even the balance out a little!
The translation was one thing that I really want to comment on. Often
when reading translations I'm very aware of the middle man between me
and the author and whenever a phrase seems a bit out of kilter to me I
wonder if that's what the author really meant to say or if the
translator has added or subtracted something. This wasn't the case
with The Flanders Panel, I found the book very readable and didn't
find myself stopping to think about the turns of phrases.
As others have said the smoking in the presence of artworks that were
supposed to be being cleaned got to me a bit. But it was mainly the
smoking as much as any other of the little details that put this book
in Southern Europe to me. I didn't get a great feel for the location
it could have been any major city in that region really, but the lack
of specific Madridness didn't casue me any problems.
[on this being a "beachbook for intellectuals"]
My problem with both "literary" and "intellectual" is that they are
generally used as insults to other things rather than compliments to
the things they are applied to, or even just as plain labels to
distinguish one type of content from another. If it is claimed that
this is a literary book it seems to imply that all other mysteries
aren't worth the paper they are written on.
I've been tying my brain in knots on the intellectual angle this
morning. The dictionary definition of intellectual seems to come down
to "appealing to logic rather than to emotions". On the one hand I
don't see anything intrinsically wrong with that. On the other I've
got this down to a reductio ad absurdum proof that shows that good
books have to appeal on an emotional level as well as having a good
reasoned plot and therefore no intellectual book could be any good and
hopefully no one intellectual would like a bad book, therefore there
are no intellectual books. But I rather started losing the plot
myself at this point ;-)
Also the "beachbook" label always seems backwards to me, there's often
more time on holiday to get deeper into something involving more
thinking than there is in general everyday life so the idea that
beachbooks should be lighter than usual seems upside down.
Anyways, back to the book itself. I didn't feel the book was snobby,
I got caught up in the chess and the art despite knowing little about
either so I didn't feel the book was pitched at a level to exclude
those without prior knowledge. Using the above definition I could see
the book as a little intellectual in that I didn't get as emotionally
involved with the characters as I would like to have done. I really
enjoyed the puzzle but at the end of the day there were so many levels
to the plot that the modern day murder level was the level that worked
least well for me.
On the whole though I liked the fact that this wasn't a traditional
mystery and I really enjoyed the different parts of the story. That
Julia's story was the thinnest part of the plot was disappointing but
not an all encompassing type of disappointment.
[did you guess whodunnit?]
No, the "queen" references rather made me believe that Cesar was the
intended victim of the plot rather than the perpetrator. I was
happily led up the garden path but I'm not sure that I found my way
out of the garden gate properly even when it was all explained to me.
I loved the chess game, that was the really good part of this book for
me. I can play chess but very badly, I seem to think in the wrong way
for it I loved having all the options explained so that I began to
understand what was going on. Everytime I turned the page I was
hoping to find another chess board waiting for me to learn more. I
had no chance of sussing out the whodunnit in the chess game any more
than in the "real" scenario but I enjoyed the chess game far more.
[on characters and motivation]
The motivation was thoroughly lousy and I don't think I got the hang
of who did what and why even after it was all laid out to me. However
by that point I'd enjoyed the chess game so much that I didn't really
care that the rooks and knights were more realistic than the people
they were representing.
I liked the guy they brought in to analyse the chess game the best
though I've forgotten his name already. Julia I liked the least,
probably just because she was the most prominent character with the
most opportunity to get on my nerves, and I never understood the
relationship between her and Cesar properly as it didn't seem to be
Purchased on 8th February 2002.