Thursday, March 10, 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet 2011: Letter I

The Crime Fiction Alphabet 2011 is a Weekly Meme hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. This week the Letter I takes center stage.

For my entry I've chosen the British author Iain Pears concentrating on one of my favorite art mystery series: Pear's Jonathan Argyll books set mostly in Italy. (Italy is my second letter I choice, so it's a combo, today. Couldn't resist.)

At first glance, Jonathan Argyll seems an unpromising sort of series hero. He is a bumbling Englishman, an art historian who doesn't have much get up and go to get on in the cut throat world of art. One might not ordinarily suspect that art collecting and the rarefied world of museums are the breeding grounds for all sorts of chicanery and murderous doings, but turns out, they are. Author Iain Pears, an Oxford art historian himself, appears to know the ins-and-outs of these worlds. Though I'm sure 'reality' is much less murderously colorful than Argyll's fictional world - at least I hope so.

I've loved these mysteries since the first book, THE RAPHAEL AFFAIR, read many years ago. The author's art expertise and gift for characterization give these books such an allure. As of course does the setting: Italy.

Over the life of the series, Argyll experiences changes which grow him as a character. First and foremost, he moves to Rome to pursue his new career as an occasional consultant to the Italian National Art Theft Squad headed by General Bottando (nearing retirement) and his beautiful associate Flavia Di Stefano.

But in the debut book, it all begins very unceremoniously: Argyll is arrested - caught breaking into an old Italian church - and brought to the attention of Bottando who, on the whole, would rather be sitting at an outdoor cafe enjoying the fruits of his long career. Part of the joy of this series is reading the harassed Bottando's outlook on life and the work of his perpetually cash-strapped art recovery unit of the Italian police. He and Di Stefano work well together and at first don't know what to make of the bumbling, perplexing Englishman who has stumbled into their midst.

The fun of this well researched and well-written series is seeing, over the course of several books, how Jonathan Argyll's heretofore hidden charms slowly grow on his two Italian friends and how they all come to rely on each other to solve some of the most heinous art mysteries.

Iain Pears is not only a gifted writer, but as an art historian, he obviously knows Italy well; all these talents coalesce and come alive in these intricately plotted and very colorful mysteries.

Pears is also the author of the best-selling AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST and several other stand-alone, historical novels. For a full list of all the Jonathan Argyll books as well as Iain Pears' historical titles, please check this link to the Fantastic Fiction website.


  1. Iain + Italy; a very elegant I-post.

    Perhaps I should try some of his books; I have a subplot of art crime in my recent manuscript.

  2. I haven't read any Pears either Yvette, although I've had him on various lists at times. Thanks for this reminder. Isn't the cover for THE BERNINI BUST stunning? Many thanks for this week's contribution to the CFA

  3. Dorte: Thanks. I think you'd like these books, they are very well done, well written.

  4. Kerrie: You're quite welcome, these are fun to do. The original covers for the Argyll mysteries were all pretty wonderful. I put the Bernini one at top because it's, as you say, stunning.

    I love art mysteries if they're well done. The Italian setting doesn't hurt either. ;)

  5. These are great books. Art heists and art fraud are of huge interest to me. I was so into Pears' art mysteries that I started collecting both paperback and hardcover versions. The hardcovers are becoming rather scarce these days, but I still run into the various PB editions in my neverending bookshop haunting...uh, hunting.

    An aside: Knowing how you and I share a certain affinity for a certain book you'll definitely want to read this post at my blog.

  6. John: I have mostly the paperbacks, but I do have THE IMMACULATE DECEPTION in hardcover and one other, if I can find it on my shelves somewhere. A great series. Running over to read your post.


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