This first novel in a planned series follows art historian Regina Lee of the National Gallery as she tries to prepare a small exhibition focused on Caravaggio's three paintings of “St. Cecilia and the Angel.” Already promised loans from the Getty and the Louvre, Lee is desperately trying to track down the third to complete her exhibition.
When the Louvre inexplicably withdraws their permission for her to borrow the painting, Reggie finds herself thrust into a mystery that involves a possible fourth painting, a couple of mysterious deaths, and an unpleasant entanglement with the infamous (and much maligned) French Minister of the Interior, who is running for president.
It seems that someone is trying to put a stop to Reggie's exhibition as the obstacles she encounters get more and more ominous. Reggie, however, is no shrinking violet, and she is determined to make sure the show goes on, regardless of the consequences to herself.
Her research takes her back and forth between England and France, finding connections between French Surrealists, Russian art scandals, sketchy Italian art dealers, the Nazis and Caravaggio's painting techniques (which reveal that one of these four Caravaggios is a fake). She finds a bit of romance along the way, too, although at a huge price.
Brandon's novel has a lot going for it. Not only is it compelling, but the art history (fiction or not) is fascinating, and her characters are vibrant and interesting. Reggie is not even the most well-developed character in this story; that distinction goes to Juliette Rigaut, who crackles with life. Her life story is a novel onto itself.
Brandon's sense of time and place makes you feel like you are really there with Reggie as she travels between the busy streets of London and the quiet hamlet of St. Front, France. Her plot and scene details are vivid, a feast for the senses and the imagination. I thought Caravaggio's Angel would be a guilty pleasure, but I found that it's intelligently-written and thoroughly engaging.