An art historian’s dangerous trip to Venice produces both enlightenment and disillusionment.
In this (Planeta) prizewinning 1997 Spanish novel, Alejandro Ballesteros arrives planning to study <\I>The Tempest, a richly imagistic canvas painted by the Renaissance master Giorgione, which, local academics and connoisseurs murmur, “represents the mystery of Venice,” a city in which “catastrophes do not actually occur . . . and it is the threat of what might happen, but doesn’t, that makes us anxious and apprehensive.” Well, yes and no, for Alejandro witnesses a murder, suffers the attentions of unidentified thugs, painstakingly unravels subsidiary mysteries involving the murdered man’s personal effects, a lissome art student (who was the victim’s protégé, if not more) and matches wits with a Javert– and Columbo–like police inspector. It’s fun, but it’s also turgid and de Prada’s insistent use of garish and sometimes stomach-churning visual images makes the going even rougher. In the tradition, as they say, of Eco and Pérez-Reverte, but hardly in their league.