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Publisher's Summary

Invited to dinner by the boorish local landowner, Martin Clay, an easily distracted philosopher, and his scrupulous art historian wife find themselves enlisted to assess the value of three dusty paintings moldering in the freezing breakfast room. But blocking the soot from the chimney is nothing less, Martin believes, than one of the world's lost treasures, camouflaged by misattribution and the grime of centuries. There it is: Martin's new distraction. So begins a wild trail of lies and concealments, soaring hopes and sudden panics as Martin embarks on an obsessive quest to prove his hunch, win over his wife, separate the painting from its owner, and resolve one of the great mysteries of European art.

Martin's increasingly desperate scheme turns out to involve betting all that he owns, and much that he doesn't. He falls from his domestic haven into a kind of comic hell as he is drawn into an ever more tangled web of deceit, and an ever more hair-raising intimacy with the landowner's reckless wife.

Writing with biting wit and a perfect eye for the lessons of art and the shifting shapes of self-deception, Michael Frayn has given us entertainment of the highest order; a supremely wise, and wickedly funny, portrait of the human condition.

©1999 Michael Frayn; (P)2000 Blackstone Audiobooks

Critic Reviews

"He's made a funny, fast-moving book out of a man reading other books." (The New York Times Book Review)
"Part detective story, part art history lesson, part cautionary tale, and entirely funny." (The New Yorker)

What members say

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  • Louise
  • Montclair, NJ, USA
  • 05-31-08

witty and well-read

Frayn, the author, is such a cynic and Davidson, the narrator, so dry, that the book is a great pairing of writer and reader. Very English, so expect to learn a great deal about class, and very learned, so expect to learn a great deal about art.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
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  • B J
  • Cranberry Twp, PA, USA
  • 09-26-07

Perfectly boorish narration!

I wouldn't have wanted this story read by any other voice. I adored listening to the stuffy, oh-so posh narration. And the story is fabulous. I didn't know anything about Netherlandish art prior to reading this book. I'll never look at a tiny detail in a painting again without wondering if it has some sort of political meaning.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Robin
  • Knob Noster, Macau
  • 03-13-06

Disappointing

After readying the publisher's summary I was ready for "biting wit" and "entertainment of the highest order". What I got was numerous long, dreary art history lessons, and a mild dose of drama, but very little biting wit. I generally love anything that Frederick Davidson reads but not even he could bring this one out of the dumps.

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