Stealing the Spanish Princess by Bea Green
A painting so beautiful that it is unknown, hidden away by its owner, is stolen. A young woman is killed at the same time. An art expert from the Art and Antiquities Unit at Scotland Yard is called in, but with an unknown masterpiece that he must verify his life soon becomes complicated. This tense thriller takes its inspiration from the potential existence of a painting by El Greco, but then goes on to cover so much more, offering a real insight into the world of art conservation and verification, and the international importance of a few experts who can give definitive answers. As it features a Russian oligarch, Igor Babikov, the novel also supplies a glimpse into the world of the super rich, as well as the impact of a visit to St Petersburg among other exotic destinations.
Richard Langley is the art expert whose quiet world of art recovery is rocked when he is called into help with a brutal murder, and the help of Detective Inspector Eilidh Simmons is going to be essential as they both strive to discover a painting which was never though to exist because of a body which definitely does. This is a well-paced crime thriller which deals brilliantly with the difficulties of discovering a painting which may provide the motive for murder. As Richard’s knowledge of and love for art is central to the novel the reader learns so much about the world of art and fraud, while Eilidh realizes the problems of keeping her own life separate from the fast-moving demands of her job. This is an intense crime thriller with a real basis in a fascinating world, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
As a first line goes, it is an unusual introduction to a crime novel: “Chief Inspector Richard Langley was inspecting a mummified foot in his basement office at New Scotland Yard when the phone call from the Superintendent came.” Richard is immersed in a world of objects which came into the building from airports among other places where dubious pieces turn up. It is a surprising call as the Superintendent is in charge of Homicide and Serious Crime Command, which rarely overlaps with the world of art, fine or otherwise. Richard soon discovers that in the world of Serious Crime, the human element is far more unpredictable than carefully gained knowledge of potential art fraud. Happily, he has a vital link to an investigator who has more robust abilities, Mike Telford, who has methods that are effective, even if not always fully in line with the law.
This is a book which I found hard to put down once I started; though not that knowledgeable about art, I soon understood that the existence of a near mythical painting provides the basis for an impressive novel of red herrings, exotic travel and much more. Richard is an unusual lead character in a novel which delves into some pretty murky places in the hunt for the truth, so it was easy to follow his point of view as he deals with the half-truths and red herrings of a complex case. The character of Eilidh proves another high point in a book which neatly covers the worlds of crime and art. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys crime novels which go beyond the usual format.