News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Books we're reading at the station and recommend to you.When we're not on-the-air or at our desks, we like to pick up good books. Most of us here at the station are, in fact, avid readers. In the style of NPR's "What We're Reading" (an excellent weekly guide) we, too, decided to share what we've been reading. Here's a list of books recently read by WKMS staff members, student workers and volunteers.Interested in a book on our list? Follow the Amazon link beneath the picture. A small percentage of your purchase of anything on Amazon through this link goes right to WKMS at no additional cost to you!

Uncommon Mystery: The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Murray State University Professor Emeritus Michael Cohen continues his series of uncommon mystery reviews on Sounds Good with Arturo Pérez Reverte's 1990 mystery The Flanders Panel. It's a multi-layered, 'whodunit' thriller set in the world of art restoration and the riddles of a Renaissance-era masterpiece.

Arturo Pérez-Reverte, The Flanders Panel (1990)
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa (1994)

The Flanders Panel is a mystery about the art world of restorers, brokers and auction houses. Julia, a painting restorer whose surname the author never gives us, has discovered by X-ray photos that the painting she is cleaning before sale has a concealed inscription. A Game of Chess is a fifteenth-century painting of a nobleman playing chess with his friend, a knight, while a woman reads in the background. The inscription, apparently painted over by the artist himself soon after the picture was finished, reads “Who Killed the Knight?” in Latin.

Julia learns from an art historian, Álvaro Ortega, who is also her ex-lover, the story of the figures in the painting: the Duke Ferdinand of Ostenburg plays chess with his lifelong friend Roger de Arras, who had distinguished himself in the French king’s service. The Duchess, Beatrice of Burgundy, is the reader in the background. Troubles between the French and Burgundian factions in the dukedom eventually lead to the murder of Roger de Arras by an unknown hand.

Julia consults her friends, including Menchu Roch, who is brokering the picture for an auction house, and they all decide that the inscription could also refer to the chess game in the painting, and the chess game could in turn provide a clue to Roger de Arras’s murder. They consult a shabby chess genius named Muñoz who works backward from the position on the chess board in the painting to find that the captured white knight was taken by the black queen. The chess game thus points to the Burgundian duchess as the killer.

An earlier hypothesis of Julia’s had been that Roger was killed by the Duke, jealous because of an affair between Beatrice and Roger, though the only indication of such an affair was Roger’s fetching of Beatrice from Burgundy for her marriage to Ferdinand, a favor to his friend that seems to put Roger in the position of Tristan to Beatrice’s Iseult. The mystery of who killed the knight seems to have been solved. 

But then Álvaro Ortega is murdered and the killer, using the dead art historian’s distinctive note cards, begins sending messages continuing the game shown in the painting. The murderer , who seems to see himself or herself as the black queen, directs that piece to capture the white rook—and then Menchu Roch, whose last name is a cognate of the word rook, is murdered.

Most of the detective work for the mystery outside the painting is done not by Julia but by the chess wizard Muñoz, whom Pérez-Reverte describes as being, with his old raincoat and cigarette dangling from his mouth, “like a parody of a shabby detective in a black-and-white movie.” Pérez-Reverte is best known in Spain not for his mysteries, though he has written several, but for his books about Captain Alatriste, a soldier of fortune in the time of Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Philip the IV of Spain. The Alatriste series, reminiscent of the swashbuckling tales of Dumas and Sabatini, is still ongoing.


Michael Cohen is Professor Emeritus at Murray Sate University. His newest book is A Place to Read - a collection of essays about seven decades of living and reading.

Available on Amazon

Your purchase through these links support WKMS

The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

A Place to Read by Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen is Professor Emeritus at Murray State University. His book Murder Most Fair: The Appeal of Mystery Fiction was published by Fairleigh Dickinson University Press and is available on
Related Content