Pears, Iain (George) 1955-
PEARS, Iain (George) 1955-
PERSONAL: Born August 8, 1955, in Coventry, England; son of George Derrick (an industrialist) and Betty Mitchell (a magistrate; maiden name, Proudfoot) Pears; married Ruth Harris (an academic), January 7, 1985. Education: Wadham College, Oxford, B.A., 1977, M.A., 1979; Wolfson College, Oxford, D.Phil., 1982; postdoctoral study at Yale University, 1987-88.
ADDRESSES: Home—c/o 69 Kenilworth Rd., Coventry CV4 7AF, England. Agent—Curtis Brown Ltd., 162-168 Regent St., London W1R 5TA, England.
CAREER: Writer. Reuters News Agency, correspondent, Rome, Italy, 1983-84, corporate and banking correspondent, London, England, 1984-87.
AWARDS, HONORS: Getty fellow, 1987-88.
An Instance of the Fingerpost, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 1998.
The Immaculate Deception, Scribner (New York, NY), 2000.
The Dream of Scipio, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2002.
"jonathan argyll" mystery series
The Raphael Affair, Gollancz (London, England), 1990, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1992.
The Titian Committee, Gollancz (London, England), 1992, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1993.
The Bernini Bust, Gollancz (London, England), 1992, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1994.
The Last Judgement, Gollancz (London, England), 1994, Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.
Giotto's Hand, Gollancz (London, England), 1995, Scribner (New York, NY), 1997.
Death and Restoration, Gollancz (London, England), 1996, Scribner (New York, NY), 1998.
Contributor to art and financial journals.
SIDELIGHTS: British art dealer Jonathan Argyll is often caught up in investigations of art fraud, theft, and murder in Iain Pears's mystery novels. Working with his lover, Flavia de Stefano of the Italian National Art Theft Squad, Argyll tracks down art thieves and killers in Rome. According to a critic for Publishers Weekly, Pears "writes with a Beerbohm-like wit." In addition to his mysteries featuring Argyll and Flavia, Pears has also published an historical mystery, An Instance of the Fingerpost, set in the England of the 1660s.
In The Titian Committee, Argyll and Flavia track down the killer of an American art historian, a British art collector, and a French art philosopher. The plot revolves around possible art fraud involving Titian paintings. "The real work of art here," wrote Marilyn Stasio in the New York Times Book Review, "is the plot, a piece of structural engineering any artist would envy."
In The Bernini Bust Argyll tries to sell some artwork to the Moresby Museum in Los Angeles, but when the museum's benefactor is killed and a marble bust goes missing, Argyll finds himself calling upon Flavia for assistance. "With sharply etched characters and art world lore," noted the critic for Publishers Weekly,"Pears's latest tale is a lark in grand British style."
In The Last Judgement, Argyll agrees to act as delivery man for a Parisian painting bought by a Rome collector. But the collector is found murdered, someone tries to steal the painting from Argyll, and the authorities demand that the painting—possibly stolen—be returned. The story, according to the Publishers Weekly reviewer, "delivers its plot twists at a rapid clip." Emily Melton in Booklist called The Last Judgement "a sophisticated, adventurous, and gripping story that is sure to hold wide appeal."
An Instance of the Fingerpost is set in England of the 1660s and uses the murder of an Oxford fellow as the starting point for a "sprawling tale of politics and passion, science and sex, religion and revenge," as Bill Ott wrote in Booklist. Four characters provide contradictory accounts of the murder, all of the narrators being "variously self-deluded, self-protective, and so unreliable that from the novel's first sentence on, anything you read may be a lie," according to Mark H. Harris in Entertainment Weekly."When the denouement comes," Richard Bernstein wrote in the New York Times, "it is with a new and final twist, one whose quality of surprise is the final proof of this talented author's almost infinite capacity to replace one understanding of things with another." Pears "masterfully mixes human drama, history lesson, and intellectual puzzle in this challenging but thoroughly compelling novel," Ott concluded.
Argyll returns in The Immaculate Deception, published in 2000. Newly married to Flavia de Stefano, now acting head of the art theft department of the Italian police force, Argyll and his new bride contemplate impending parenthood while Flavia worries about whether she will permanently succeed her retiring boss, General Taddeo Bottando, as the head of the art theft division. When a priceless piece of art is stolen while on loan to the Italian government, Argyll accompanies his new bride on a mission to retrieve the painting. Matters are complicated by orders from Prime Minister Sabauda that Flavia cannot use any public monies to pay any ransoms for the painting. As she investigates, she uncovers an old case of murder and political corruption that promises to further complicate her attempts to recover the painting. In the meantime, Argyll discovers clues that appear to link Bottando to the missing artwork. When persons connected to the painting and investigation begin dying, Argyll and Flavia face difficult decisions and moral dilemmas.
"Pears offers a glimpse of the painstaking process of authenticating ancient works of art," commented Library Journal critic Caroline Mann. Reviewer Bill Ott, writing in Booklist, observed that "Pears masterfully incorporates the missing painting's history into the fabric of the story. Best of all, though, is his wonderful grasp of the moral ambiguity at the heart of Italian life." Although a Publishers Weekly reviewer did not find The Immaculate Deception to be a "scintillating mystery," the reviewer did remark that Pears "nicely portrays the Italian art world" in the book.
The year 2002 saw the appearance of The Dream of Scipio, a complex and detailed historical novel spanning fifteen centuries in Provence, Italy. "The story unfolds in three time frames, in each of which a man and a woman are in love, civilization itself is crumbling, and Jews become the scapegoats for larger cultural anxieties," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer. In fifth-century Rome, wealthy Roman nobleman Manlius Hippomanes sacrifices his pagan beliefs to become a Christian bishop in order to raise an army to protect Provence from invading hordes of barbarians. Manlius writes The Dream of Scipio, a neo-Platonic allegory used to record the wisdom of his teacher and platonic mentor, Sophia. Manlius's strategy ultimately fails, but the manuscript of The Dream of Scipio survives.
In the fourteenth century, Olivier de Noyen rediscovers the manuscript. Olivier, a poet and scholar, lives in Florence during the time of the Black Death, and spends much of his time in fear of the devastating disease. Olivier falls in love with a Jewish servant girl he sees in the marketplace. But when Olivier's patron, the zealous and determined Cardinal Ceccani, places blame for the plague on the Jews, Olivier places his safety—even his life—at risk for the sake of his love.
While the Nazis devastate twentieth-century Europe, classical scholar and historian Julien Barneuve studies the poetry of Olivier de Noyen and becomes interested in the Dream of Scipio manuscript. When France falls to the Nazis and the Holocaust staggers forward into horrific reality, however, Julien finds himself in the unwilling position of censor and propagandist, who must struggle to protect his own love, a Jewish painter. "As Pears juggles these stories and themes in extremely complex but immensely satisfying three-part harmony, we come to see how actions both abominable and compassionate spring from the same idea," wrote Bill Ott in Booklist.
"Each of the three men is ennobled, and victimized, by his love for a woman chosen to be sacrificed for a 'greater good,'" wrote a Kirkus Reviews critic. "And each endures a separation illustrating the Platonic concept that virtue is wholeness, evil the violent sundering of an ideal unity of harmonized parts." Charles observed that "Pears handles these relationships like everything in this novel—with extraordinary delicacy, capturing the full tragedy and beauty of thwarted affection."
David McAllister, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, called The Dream of Scipio "a beautifully constructed novel, and Pears jumps effortless between the three narratives, as the choice that faces each character is made clear and the 'Dream' of the philosophy is put to the test. The novel builds to a bloody, tense, and highly topical denouement, in which political expedience demands the persecution of a minority, and individual resistance seems futile, selfish, and naive." Barbara Hoffert, reviewing the book in Library Journal, noted that "the plotting is a marvel, and the text moves smoothly among the three eras," while BookPage reviewer Mark Tarallo remarked that "Pears skillfully reveals the commonalities and linkages between the protagonists." Critic Susan Tekulve, in Book, opined that the author's "weighty themes take precedence over plot and character development, and the narrative lacks dramatic tension." Still, most critics enjoyed the heft and complexity of Pears's book. John Crowley, writing in New York Times, commented that "Pears's story is like one of those symmetrical, seemingly patent but teasingly complex knots that decorate ancient Celtic manuscripts. Three interwoven stories twine in and out of one another, revealing similarities, creating patterns and connections."
Pears avoids the clichés of mystery writing and continues to enthrall readers with his carefully constructed and seamless plots that have even the best detectives perplexed until their conclusions. With so many continued successes, it is hard to imagine where Pears will take Jonathan Argyll next. Wherever author and character find their next mystery, readers are sure to be equally entertained.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Libraries, January, 1999, review of An Instance of the Fingerpost, p. 104.
Book, July-August, 2002, Susan Tekulve, review of The Dream of Scipio, p. 82.
Booklist, April 1, 1996, Emily Melton, review of The Last Judgement, p. 1347; June 1, 1997, Bill Ott, review of Giotto's Hand, pp. 1667-1668; December 1, 1997, Bill Ott, review of An Instance of the Fingerpost, p. 587; August 1, 1998, Bill Ott, review of Death and Restoration, pp. 1976-1977; January 1, 1999, review of An Instance of the Fingerpost, p. 779; September 1, 2000, Bill Ott, review of The Immaculate Deception; May 1, 2002, Bill Ott, review of The Dream of Scipio, p. 6; January 1, 2003, review of The Dream of Scipio, p. 793; September 15, 2003, Candace Smith, review of The Dream of Scipio, p. 252.
Christian Century, November 18, 1998, review of An Instance of the Fingerpost, p. 1119.
Discover, February 1, 1999, Michael M. Abrams, review of An Instance of the Fingerpost, p. 95.
Drood Review of Mystery, January, 2001, review of The Bernini Bust, p. 22.
Entertainment Weekly, March 20, 1998, p. 84; March 23, 1998, Mark H. Harris, review of An Instance of the Fingerpost, p. 84; March 5, 1999, review of An Instance of the Fingerpost, p. 59.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2002, review of The Dream of Scipio, p. 606.
Kliatt, September 1, 2003, Nola Theiss, review of The Dream of Scipio, p. 20.
Library Journal, January 1, 1998, Susan Gene Clifford, review of An Instance of the Fingerpost, pp. 143-144; October 1, 1998, Kristen L. Smith, sound recording review of An Instance of the Fingerpost, p. 149; November 1, 2000, Caroline Mann, review of The Immaculate Deception, p. 142; May 15, 2002, Barbara Hoffert, review of The Dream of Scipio, p. 127.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 25, 2001, review of The Immaculate Deception, p. 9.
Maclean's, June 22, 1998, Barbara Wickens, "Foul Play for Fair Days," p. 54; July 15, 2002, Brian Bethune, "Evil Men Do," p. 60.
Newsweek, April 17, 1998, Malcolm Jones, Jr., review of An Instance of the Fingerpost, p. 75.
New York Times, April 3, 1998; June 23, 2002, John Crowley, "Unsolicited Manuscript," review of The Dream of Scipio, section 7, p. 26.
New York Times Book Review, October 24, 1993; September 18, 1994; March 22, 1998; March 7, 1999, review of An Instance of the Fingerpost, p. 28.
People, March 23, 1998, David Lehman, review of An Instance of the Fingerpost, p. 37; July 22, 2002, Laura Italiano, review of The Dream of Scipio, p. 35.
Publishers Weekly, August 3, 1992, review of The Raphael Affair, p. 63; August 2, 1993, review of The Titian Committee, p. 64; June 27, 1994, review of The Bernini Bust, p. 58; January 29, 1996, review of The Last Judgement, p. 87; June 9, 1997, review of Giotto's Hand, p. 42; December 1, 1997, review of An Instance of the Fingerpost, p. 43; August 3, 1998, review of Death and Restoration, p. 77; September 25, 2000, review of The Immaculate Deception, p. 92; May 27, 2002, review of The Dream of Scipio, p. 35.
Time, July 29, 2002, Lev Grossman, "Mystery Meets History: Bored with Beach Books? Want Something Fancier Than Clancy? Try These Sophisticated Euro-thrillers," p. 62.
Times Literary Supplement, May 24, 2002, David McAllister, "The Bubble of Civility," review of The Dream of Scipio, p. 23.
Washington Post Book World, June 17, 2001, review of An Instance of the Fingerpost, p. 4; December 2, 2001, review of The Immaculate Deception, p. 7.
BookPage, http://www.bookpage.com/ (November 20, 2003), Mark Tarallo, review of The Dream of Scipio.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Online, http://www.postgazette.com/ (November 17, 2002), Len Barcousky, review of The Dream of Scipio.*