‘This sparkling first novel is a treat for lovers of elegant mystery and exquisite prose… A delight’ – The Times
‘Ambitious, accomplished… Suffused with comedy and a mounting sense of loss… A mystery story, a love story and a comedy of errors set in that most familiar of locations – a ruinous country house – The Bellini Madonna is a compelling debut that entertains and unsettles in equal measure’ – The Guardian
‘A complex narrative twists and turns back in time to Baedeker’s Italy… This is a first novel and Lowry has thrown a very considerable talent into it… Splendidly quirky’ – The Independent
‘An appropriately Jamesian atmosphere of ambiguity overhangs a plot whose complex strands are gathered in with an enviable expertise… Fusing the techniques of the thriller writer with those of historical fiction, Lowry… invokes an authentically Bellinian sense of distantly exact perspectives to create a first novel of genuine subtlety and distinction’ – The Times Literary Supplement
Thomas Lynch is a libidinous aesthete and non-achieving art historian in disgrace for his sexual misdemeanours. There seems to be only one means of redemption – the opportunity to prove his long-standing theory of the existence of an uncatalogued Madonna by the great Venetian Renaissance master, Giovanni Bellini. Lynch’s obsessive search at last brings him to Mawle, a run-down English country house owned by the Roper family.
There, Lynch discovers a lost diary by the former owner of the house, James Roper, that puts him on the trail of the picture and immerses him in the lives, past and present, of the Ropers themselves. The Ropers are intent on keeping Lynch prisoner for reasons of their own, and he soon finds himself caught up in a sexual cat-and-mouse game. Where can James Roper have hidden the Madonna? And what possible role might Roper’s enigmatic great-granddaughter, Anna, have to play in solving the mystery of its whereabouts? In his search for the picture, Lynch – weakened by love and alcohol – has to confront a multitude of paradoxes: of desire and eroticism, art and life, truth and lies.
As the true relationships between the characters across the centuries emerge, it becomes clear that in life, as in art, nothing should be taken at face value.