Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Bruges Tapestry by P.A. Staes

Title: The Bruges Tapestry
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

Rating: Okay.
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!

*** *** ***


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.


  1. I don't think that I would like this one because it focuses on the mystery of the tapestries through several generations. Had it been all set in the past, I would probably have wanted to pick it up, but mysteries aren't always my thing, and so I am sort of choosy with them.

  2. Well, it does skip the many generations and just focuses on the contemporary family -- a man has stolen it from the Vatican where it was kept. The story flip-flops between that line and the historical one. The historical line was very compelling (for me) and I'm curious to see what historical thread she picks up in the next book.

  3. The historical sections do sound a lot better, though the contemporary doesn't sound too bad. That said, having a secondary character take a sort of precedence seems distracting. Overall it's appealing, though.

    1. It's not a cozy, but there is a comfy feel to the novel -- just enough drama to be exciting but not wrenching (although there was a moment at the end where I got teary!) and a good mix of procedure and interaction.

  4. Nice review, Audra. I'll be starting this one soon (probably tonight, in fact). I wonder how my views of it will compare to yours?

  5. I love art mysteries too, and this premise sounds great. I will be throwing my hat in the ring for this giveaway.

  6. Great review, Audra! I'm definitely intrigued by this one, though I think I'll wait a bit to check it out -- I recently read and LOVED The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro, and I'm worried another art-centered mystery might not compare as well.

  7. I love the sound of this one, but I'm thinking there wouldn't be enough of a mystery element for me.

  8. There are several things about this book that in general appeal to me: the fact that Claire is on a art team is really cool (especially because I only recently learned that such things existed), you related it to Lady and the Unicorn which I enjoyed reading, and I have enjoyed historical mysteries in the past. I don't mind when there is a contemporary story running parallel to the historical story - but I typically prefer the historical to be the stronger story. Thanks for the review!

  9. I loved "The Lady and the Unicorn" by Tracy Chevalier, and this one sounds good too. The concept that the tapestries took 2 years or so to make, and that they were made face down and their creators didn't get to see them until they were finished is amazing to me. I'm off to enter your giveaway, thanks!