By and large I am not a big Thriller reader (see earlier tirade against a favorite thriller author of many, Lee Child). But I find that there is one subgenre of thrillers that makes it through the chink in the nonfiction armor of my reading heart: Art Thrillers.
Which is hilarious, because I don't know anything about art. Scratch that. I know that I like to look at art. But I never took an Art Appreciation class (big mistake, that, what the hell was I doing in college?) and so couldn't tell a Monet from a Manet, or name you any artistic style outside of Impressionism. Wait: Cubism. That's one too, right? So I can name two styles.
But I LOVED Arturo Perez-Reverte's novel The Flanders Panel, and any other time art is involved (even in nonfiction), I'm enthralled.* It was no surprise, then, that I loved David Hewson's thriller The Garden of Evil, which is about an Italian police detective, Nic Costa, and his pursuit of a shadowy killer who is apprehended in the presence of two dead bodies and a lost Caravaggio painting, but who escapes and manages to kill Costa's wife in the bargain. I loved everything about this novel; its atmosphere, the Italian location, the description of Caravaggio's paintings, and shortish sections divided into shortish chapters (but longer than three pages, mind). But my very favorite thing about this novel?
The art expert that the Italian police turn to is a nun named Agata Graziano. Actually, she's not a nun, she's a sister (she didn't take the final vows), and she's awesome. I enjoyed this exchange between her and Detective Costa:
"'[Call me ] Agata, please. When I am here, I am here as an academic. When I am at home, you can call me 'Sister.' Except you are not allowed in my home. So the point is moot.'
'I consider myself both enlightened and chastised.'
She laughed. 'Oh...a sarcastic detective. I like that. Convents lack sarcasm. Throw it at me as much as you like." (p. 76.)
She's one of the best and strongest female characters I've ever come across in fiction, and she's totally unique. She also knows a bunch of other nuns, who play a role in the novel's conclusion and who work to exact their own type of justice. Awesome.
I'm actually joining this series in the middle; there's several earlier books featuring Nic Costa, and the first title is A Season for the Dead. I know Sister Agata won't be in it, but I'm going to try it all the same. Have a good weekend, all.
*Matthew Hart's The Irish Game, about art theft, is one of my favorite nonfiction books of all time.