The Bruges Tapestry by P.A. Staes
Author: P.A. Staes
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 16th Century / Belgium / Tapestry Making / Vatican / Contemporary / Dual Narrative / Mystery)
Publisher/Publication Date: CreateSpace (8/29/2012)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: The story of a Belgian tapestry is told through the family who made it and the individuals who found it, separated by five hundred years.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's reminiscent of other crime novels (like Cara Black's) which matches the feel of the story.
First line: I was sixteen years old when Marie died giving birth to Father Bernardo's child.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like women's contemporary fiction with historical twists, like Sarah Jio's books.
Why did I get this book?: I love art mysteries!
Review: Alternating between the past and the present, this novel tells the story of a tapestry, and the individuals affected by it. In 1520, Belgian Beatrice tells the story of the making of the tapestry in her father's shop. She and her sister Marie care for her father after their mother's unexpected death, and the arrival of the slimy Father Bernardo from the Vatican changes everything.
In contemporary Newport Beach, California, Detective Claire DeMaer investigates art theft. When her flashy interior decorate friend Nora begs her to attend a party of Nora's newest client, and lover, Claire agrees -- and to her surprise, spots a tapestry identified by Interpol as stolen from the Vatican. She confronts the owner, who confesses to stealing it, but alleges the Vatican stole it from his family first. That claim sends Claire chasing the truth.
This is the first in a series following Claire and it's a good start. I enjoyed the historical sections of the story, reminiscent of Tracy Chevalier's The Lady and the Unicorn, and young Beatrice's search for justice and vengeance in a time when priests were untouchable, their crimes accepted. In revenge, she decides to alter the cartoons -- or patterns -- to the tapestry to include, via symbols, the story of her sister's tragedy.
The contemporary sections felt a little uneven to me, and I didn't quite enjoy Claire's story as much as Beatrice's. A good deal of Claire's story -- her motivation as well as her back story -- is tied up with her best friend Nora, who frankly seemed awful. Claire's investigation of the tapestry's provenance is dependent on at least two professionals bending the rules or turning a blind eye to her technically illegal behavior, which might be true in these circles, but also felt a little coincidental.
The novel moves pretty briskly, which is good given that it's 237 pages. Staes conveys the background need to understand the story -- the making of tapestries, how an art theft investigation unfolds -- without any awkward infodumps, and there were two twists to the story I hadn't anticipated but enjoyed greatly. With a throwaway shout out to one of my favorite musical groups -- The Mediæval Bæbes -- and the inclusion of a new-to-me medieval poet, Vittoria Colonna, I ended the book satisfied. Staes includes a cast of characters, terminology guide, and resources at the end of the book.
I'm looking forward to Staes' future novels and following Claire. For those curious, the Kindle e-book is $2.99 at the moment!
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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Bruges Tapestry to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/international readers, ends 4/5.