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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Last Judgement

Iain Pears

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To purchase The Last Judgement

Title: The Last Judgement
Author: Iain Pears
Genre: Novel
Written: 1993
Length: 278 pages
Availability: The Last Judgement - US
The Last Judgement - UK
The Last Judgement - Canada
The Last Judgement - India
Le Jugement dernier - France
Der Tod des Sokrates - Deutschland
Il quadro che uccide - Italia
  • The fourth in the Art History Mystery-series featuring Jonathan Argyll and Flavia di Stefano

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Our Assessment:

B : a bit brisk and lite much of the way, but nicely brought to its conclusion

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Sunday Times A 6/6/1993 John Coleman
Sunday Times A 20/3/1994 Ivan Hill

  From the Reviews:
  • "A witty and exceptionally brilliant puzzler." - John Coleman, Sunday Times

  • "The full solution unravels only at the very end, but it is worth savouring the style and the asides rather than racing to break the suspense." - Ivan Hill, Sunday Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Last Judgement begins with struggling art dealer Jonathan Argyll doing a favor for another dealer: after a few days in Paris he's on his way back home to Rome, and volunteers to deliver a painting his colleague has sold to the waiting customer in Italy. A second-rate eighteenth century Death of Socrates:

This picture was part of a series of paintings. Of four paintings on legal themes. Of judgements, in fact.
       What should be a straightforward task -- transporting and delivering the painting -- turns out to one that comes with rather more surprises and complications than Argyll expected. A man with a scar above his eyebrow tries to steal it from him at the Paris train station, and then the buyer, Arthur Muller, is so disappointed by the painting that he asks Argyll to take it away again and charges him with selling it.
       Argyll lives with Flavia di Stefano, an investigator working Rome's Art Theft Department. When she gets to work the next day, her boss sends her to check in on a murder -- where the officer in charge is Giulio Fabriano, whom she had once been very close to and who still kept up his interest in her. After a while it dawns on her that the victim is the very man Argyll had mentioned going to see -- Muller. Argyll isn't a suspect -- but someone spotted visiting the victim after Argyll left might be: a man with a scar above his eyebrow .....
       Soon there's a second victim, killed by the same gun and with both Argyll and Muller's addresses on a piece of paper in his pocket.
       There's further mystery about the painting: it was apparently stolen, but not reported as such. Argyll takes charge of returning it to its owner, Jean-Xavier-Marie Rouxel, -- a: "High-ranking war hero type" who is about to receive the Europa prize, "a sort of European Community Nobel prize for politics".
       Connections slowly emerge, in the backgrounds of the dead men, and of Rouxel, and it's events in World War II and dealing with the French Resistance -- and a great betrayal -- that are obviously at the heart of the matter. Though what it is about the painting that someone seems so interested in takes a while to figure out (though readers surely will have guessed the missing connection much sooner ...).
       The Last Judgement zips along at a good pace, Argyll and Flavia traveling back and forth between Italy and France, with detours to Switzerland and England, They're repeatedly troubled by a lack of ready money (a problem which, at one point, Flavia addresses in a rather shocking manner) and sleep, but they certainly keep at it. The French authorities are, for the most part, less than helpful -- and the man with the scare above his eyebrow keeps popping up and complicating matters. There's a bit much frivolous fun -- and lawlessness, including the incidental freeing of a presumably illegal immigrant from French custody -- with Pears only really slowing down for background matter about those involved in the crimes while treating Flavia and Argyll and their relationship more casually. (Flavia and Argyll and their relationship are developed over the course of the seven-book series in which they are the featured characters, and there is some revealing banter and detail in this mid-point novel, but Pears could certainly have devoted a bit more space here and there to them.)
       If rather quick and a bit bumpy for most of the way, the resolution to The Last Judgement is a satisfying one, all the changed identities, father-figures and their pasts, and dredged up history from half a century earlier fitted nicely together. Even the fates of those involved are nicely handled -- justice, more or less, served, though hardly in the conventional ways of arrests and trials. A letter Flavia sends to one of those peripherally involved to inform her of the resolution gets it just right: carefully worded, everything she relates is literally true, yet will be read by the recipient in a way that satisfyingly leads her to entirely different conclusions.
       This is rather lite stuff, and the story -- or most of the action along the way, at least -- a bit too rip-roaringly thin, but it's a pleasant enough diverting read all along, and there is ultimately some solid depth to it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 January 2018

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The Last Judgement: Reviews: Other books by Iain Pears under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Iain Pears was born in 1955. He attended Oxford and has written numerous books.

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© 2018-2020 the complete review

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