By Iain Pears 
Berkley - March 2000
ISBN: 0425173585 - Paperback

Mystery / British Police Procedural

Reviewed by: Jo Rogers, MyShelf.Com
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The Berkley Publishing Group brings us a Prime Crime Art History Mystery, when they publish, for the first time in paperback, Giotto's Hand.  It is a well-written mystery, with an education in art history on the side. 

The story begins when General Taddeo Bottando, head of Rome's Art Theft Squad, receives a letter from a dying woman confessing to helping a thief steal a painting some thirty years ago.  Bottando sends his beautiful and capable assistant, Flavia di Stefano, to interview the woman, one Maria Fancelli.  She points an accusing finger to an English art dealer of less than clean reputation, Geoffrey Forster. 

Bottando remembers setting up a file under the name Giotto for a string of thefts in which the thief stole the picture during a major party and leaves with an old and expensive painting, usually one that was not photographed and thus would be difficult to track down.  Indeed, the Fra Angelica painting was one of the thirty-two paintings on Bottando's list that seemed to be stolen by the same master thief, until it was found in the possession of a bumbling criminal.  Now, it looks as though they might have to reopen the case, but Bottando is reluctant to spend the department's money on a wild goose chase. 

However, he finds it necessary when Dottore Argan, an art expert who wants Bottando's job, begins to be interested in the Giotto file.  Bottando sends Flavia and her boyfriend, Jonathan Argyll, a would-be art dealer with too much conscience, to London to find out what they can about Forster.  Argyll is somewhat inept as a policeman, but he still manages to find Forster and makes an appointment to see him.  However, when he arrives at Forster's cottage in the village of Norwich, he finds Forster dead at the foot of the stairs.  He can't tell if Forster fell accidentally or was pushed. 

Forced to remain in Norwich, Argyll tries the room at the pub, but it and the food there are deplorable.  The village's most prominent resident, Mary Verney, offers him lodging, which he feels he must accept or starve to death.  Besides, she also lives near the Forster cottage, so he can keep an eye on the police investigation. 

The mystery deepens when he finds there are several people in Norwich that could have wanted Forster dead, including his widow.  The police ask Argyll to go through Forster's files, because he is an art expert and knows what Forster would be doing.  Before he can finish, someone hauls the files into a field and burns them.  And he finds that Maria Fancelli had an axe to grind.  Forster had gotten her pregnant and dumped her. 

Giotto's Hand is an interesting mystery that will provide hours of reading entertainment.  It will also keep you guessing until Argyll figures out the truth at the end. 

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