The Game of Chess, a masterpiece by the 15th-century Flemish artist Pieter van Huys, comes on to the art market in Madrid. A gifted young picture-restorer, Julia, is a commissioned to clean it before it goes to auction. In the foreground of the painting are two noblemen playing a game of chess, while in the background a lady is seated at a window reading a book. Also depicted, but concealed under a layer of paint, are the words: “Who killed the knight?” The art historian consulted by Julia to discover the sitters’ identity and the meaning of the question is Julia’s ex-lover. He sends her a sheaf of notes in answer, but is found dead at about the time they are delivered. An accident? Murder? Uneasily Julia pursues her quest to discover the answer to the concealed riddle, recruiting the help of her “father-figure”, the homosexual antique dealer Cesar, and that of a scruffy chess player, Munoz. By working backwards from the game depicted, Munoz identifies the piece that will have taken the white knight - a piece already identified with one of Van Huys’ two noble players, who had met a violent death. The story might have ended with this discovery, except that Julia starts receiving cryptic messages presenting moves in a continuation of the game; as the white queen comes under threat, and Julia realizes that she is that piece, the need to unmask the phantom chess player becomes a desperate race for safety.
In The Flanders Panel Arturo Perez-Reverte has constructed a totally ingenious crime thriller, the clues embedded both in the details of a five-hundred-year-old painting, and in a highly sophisticated game of chess. Here is a wholly original novel to challenge and delight any reader.