Iain Pears - The Raphael Affair (1990)

Iain Pears has written some very interesting books over the years, interesting both structurally and thematically. It came as a bit of a surprise to me, therefore, to find The Raphael Affair to be such a conventional book. Conventionality is not automatically a bad thing, anymore than esoterica is automatically a good thing. In either case, it is the execution that matters, and whether the form suits the purpose and intent of the author. In this case, a fairly straightforward structure suits the fairly straightforward story, and the execution is certainly adequate, if not exceptional.

The plot concerns a recently discovered painting by, surprise-surprise, Raphael. Or is merely a very clever forgery? The twists and turns to find out the means by which the painting could be forged, who would benefit and the like are handled well by Pears. The intricacies of the international art world provide a fine and somewhat unusual backdrop for what is, essentially, a competant but uninspired mystery novel.

Lest I seem to be damning wth faint praise, let me hasten to add, that the book is eminently readable and quite enjoyable. Not all books can be masterpieces, not even all works by masters are of equal quality (if you have any doubt about that read Shakespeare's Hamlet and Pericles back to back.)

But just because a book is not an eternal masterpiece does not mean it is without merit. Such is the case here. The book is a pleasant diversion. Fans of mysteries or of Pears' writing will certainly find it a good read, even if it is unlikely to end up on their top ten list.

Overall Grade: C+

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