Cover image for Waking Raphael
Waking Raphael
Forbes, Leslie.
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Publication Information:
New York : Bantam Books, 2004.

Physical Description:
430 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
Originally published: London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003.
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FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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The restoration of an enigmatic painting unlocks unspeakable secrets and drives a mute woman to commit a shocking act of violence--which sparks an investigation into a nearly forgotten war crime and a series of events that will shatter the silence gripping this community.

Author Notes

Leslie Forbes was born in Vancouver, Canada in 1953. She worked as an author, artist, and broadcaster in London, England. Her novels include Bombay Ice and Fish, Blood, and Bone, which was nominated for the Orange Prize. Her travel books include Waking Raphael, Remarkable Feasts: Adventures on the Food Trail from Baton Rouge to Old Peking, A Taste of Provence: Classic Recipes from the South of France, and A Taste of Tuscany: Classic Recipes from the Heart of Italy. She died on July 1, 2016 at the age of 63.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Forbes' latest departs from India, the setting of her previous literary thrillers-- Bombay Ice 0 (1998) and Fish, Blood and Bone0 (2001)--and moves to idyllic Urbino, Italy, birthplace of Renaissance painter Raphael. Deftly exploring connections between art, religion, and politics, Forbes layers her mystery with lush imagery and palpable human drama. When the Raphael painting that she is commissioned to work on is attacked, Charlotte Penton, a prim English divorcee and art restorer, finds herself embroiled in a plot involving deadly secrets and betrayals from the past. As Charlotte and her rival, the sexy Canadian Donna, look for answers in the painting, they become entangled in the mystery of San Rocco, a village whose destruction during World War II hides another sordid secret protected by powerful men. Numerous digressions on such matters as the mechanics of hoax miracles and Italian cuisine add flavor and depth to the novel but also diminish the suspense. A good choice for fans of Arturo Perez-Reverte and Iain Pears or for the Italy-bound. --Misha Stone Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Forbes, who set her first two literary thrillers in lush, fascinating India, turns to Europe in her excellent third, to the idyllic Italian town of Urbino, birthplace of the painter Raphael. Recently divorced, Charlotte Penton is the latest in a long line of repressed Englishwomen who travel to Italy-in Charlotte's case, to supervise the restoration of a Raphael portrait, La Muta-and find their lives transformed. Decidedly unrepressed is beautiful, not terribly smart Donna Ricco, a member of a film company hired to document the restoration. Outside Urbino lies the abandoned hamlet of San Rocco, whose only inhabitant, the crazy Muta, lives secretly in a ruined cellar. Charlotte brushes up against the mystery of the WWII disappearance of San Rocco's residents and finds herself, along with Donna, drawn into the dark questions surrounding it. The old men of Urbino spend their days plotting in cafes, watching Charlotte and Donna stumble toward truths the men don't want known. The horror of the past is eventually exposed by a chain of events beginning with the slashing of the freshly restored Raphael painting. The secret is of killing and worse: "All those foul acts of which men are capable when God turns his face away from mankind." The characters are richly drawn, from the suave count to the pig farmer. Entranced readers will find the secrets of San Rocco uncovered, layer by layer, not unlike Charlotte's painstaking restoration of Raphael's painting. There's more than a touch of magic realism involved, interwoven with fascinating facts about history, religion, painting, miracles and more. This novel will captivate and delight. Agent, Barbara Levy. (June 29) Forecast: Booksellers can make comparisons to Umberto Eco, Iain Pears and Peter Hoeg-as Bantam did on the galley-and trust that Forbes's sales will be high. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The Da Vinci Code meets Captain Corelli's Mandolin in this top-notch literary thriller. The recently divorced Charlotte Penton escapes London for the town of Urbino in the Italian countryside to lead a restoration project on an enigmatic painting by Raphael known as La Muta, or "the Mute Woman." When the canvas is viciously gouged by a mute cleaning woman, blood begins dripping from the wounds, drawing pilgrims far and wide in search of a miracle. Vatican investigators, debunkers, and media crews also descend upon Urbino to witness the spectacle. Charlotte suspects that the cleaning woman is hiding out near the bell tower of San Rocco, a crumbling fortress on the edge of town. But the more Charlotte delves into the history of the tiny, scarred village, the more she learns about the horrifying atrocities that occurred there during World War II and the widespread cover-up that followed. With touches of magic realism, Forbes (Bombay Ice; Fish, Blood and Bone) adds mystery to a novel that combines art, Catholicism, government corruption, political history, and a dash of romance. Vivid scenery and richly detailed characters add depth. Highly recommended.-Christine Perkins, Burlington P.L., WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



MIRACLE NUMBER 1 A Galilean Transformation 'You see how he glances furtively over one shoulder, as if . . . as if he were escaping from the scene of a crime.' It was Charlotte's first rehearsal to camera, and the unforgiving television lights revealed her to be more nervous than the young man in the portrait she was describing. 'But is he the perpetrator of the crime or just a witness?' she went on. 'I believe the artist wants us to ask such questions, feel ourselves part of the plot. The picture, you see, represents a window into another space and time-in this case the fifteenth century. Everything in the painting is designed to reinforce the fiction that this young man, with one hand apparently on the picture frame, is about to vault from his world into ours.' 'To me he looks like Paolo,' said Donna. 'The same sexy mouth.' Ignoring the girl, Charlotte continued, 'Another example of this arresting device is Raphael's portrait of La Muta, the "silent" or "mute" woman, a title acknowledging that she could, if she wished, speak to us of what she has seen, cross the boundary of the picture plane and-' 'Give each of us fair warning when our time is up,' finished one of the Italians on the film crew, tapping his watch. 'Lunchtime, in this case!' For Muta, the first warning came in the shape of a wolf. The mute woman was near the ruined bell tower picking dandelion leaves for her lunch when an old thin wolf loped into San Rocco, a wolf who must be desperate or sick to come so close in broad daylight. Years ago Muta had seen wolves dancing together like gawky young partners at their first country fair, but this wolf was long past dancing. The animal stopped in the shade of the tower only metres from her, its tongue lolling dry between black stretched lips. The weary eyes cleared and widened as they caught sight of Muta and she saw the tongue curl back like a chameleon's and the jaws snap shut in a spray of bloody froth. So they took each other in, the last survivors of what the world had been. Muta was close enough to see the clawmarks raked across the wolf's hindquarters and the ragged furrow ploughed by a bullet down its flank. One ear was ripped almost in half and flapped like the sail of a broken windmill with every heave of the creature's lungs. When some distant sound brought what was left of its torn ears to attention, Muta followed the old wolf's gaze and saw a pack of dogs appear on the horizon from the direction of the Villa Rosa. Too worn out to run far, the wolf swung its wedge of grizzled head, scanning the ruined hamlet for shelter, and before she could do anything it had made a dash for the bell tower, passing not more than an arm's length from where Muta stood. She had to watch its fall. One of the weak places in her cellar's roof gave way and she stood to watch the wolf falling, kicking, scratching, its black-rimmed yellow eyes fixed on her, neither asking for help nor expecting it. Muta knew how that was. The pack was closer now. In the lead was a long-legged veteran who had lost an eye and half his jaw three winters back defending his master from a wounded boar. Muta had seen that same dog take on a viper as thick in the middle as the dog's own head and grip that snake and shake it straight as a walking-stick. That dog would track the devil into Hades and back, Muta knew, and she knew too that the pack it led didn't hunt alone; the men must be close. She turned to run for her cellar, but the wolf was there, wounded or dead, and even a dead wolf could give away her secrets, and so as the pack of baying dogs streamed over the ruined vineyards towards San Rocco, she acted against her instinct to hide, and ran not away from the pack but towards it, back and forth across the wolf's trail, her own rank underground smell disguising the wolf's as she waved her arms in their flapping dead men's clothes at the half-wild dogs, some of them even wilder from an earlier kill. When that failed to scatter them she threw stones, handfuls of turf, firewood. As the old one-eyed boarhound leapt up and caught a branch mid-air, snapping it in two with his misshapen jaws, Muta saw the hunters not far behind, approaching on foot. Her need to escape grew desperate. She kicked dirt in the dogs' faces, raged silently at them, turning her own face into a snarl and her hands into claws. Offended by the strange half-human's unwarranted attack, the dogs split from a pack into individuals and, wagging their tails in puzzlement, drew away from the mixed-up smell of woman and wolf to flow together on the far side of San Rocco. Their masters were still some way off when Muta identified the man in front, a face she recognised, even now. She thought: Will he know me? Why has he come back after so long? Then she bolted, up towards the old road and all the other walking ghosts. 'Did you see that?' one of the hunters said. The older man in the lead, closely watching the woman's progress up the steep hill, replied, 'You think she's living at San Rocco, Lorenzi?' The interrogator was a big, beefy animal in his early seventies, but fit, buffed up, expensively maintained, with a tone of voice that implied an infestation of vermin on his private property, vermin he had paid heavily to be rid of. He looked like someone who expected value for his money and had plenty of people willing to beat it out of you. 'I doubt it,' answered Lorenzi. 'She's more likely got a den up there where she joined the old German road. Those hills are riddled with caves, as you know.' The older man leaned over to peer at something. 'She's lost a shoe.' 'Looks like a museum piece, something left over from the War.' 'Something left over from the War . . .' He picked up the shoe by its laces and shifted his pouchy, well-fed eyes to the hill, where the running figure had disappeared. 'What's that scar-faced dog of Procopio's called? Baldassare? You told me he'd track anything?' 'Almost anything . . .' But when they tried to catch Baldassare he refused to be caught. He stood back and looked at them and pulled the unscarred side of his face into a snarl to match the one given by the boar, then lit out on his own towards home. 'There goes our best dog,' said Lorenzi. 'Now what?' Charlotte Penton, walking alone on one of the unmade-up tracks that circled and criss-crossed this tightly folded part of Italy like interlaced cobwebs, was contemplating the view from the crest of the hill back towards the Villa Rosa, the idyllic hotel where two hours earlier she had treated herself to a solitary and very expensive lunch. It was her first proper day off in six weeks, and with her restoration of the Raphael portrait nearing completion, Charlotte had vowed to allow herself a few treats before returning to London. There, as the result of her recent divorce, the solitude would be of a different, less voluntary kind. She took a deep breath, enjoying the warm, sweet, afternoon air. Off to her right was a scene possessing all the orderly grace of a Raphael. In the foreground a corridor of painterly trees, groomed and plumed as feather dusters, led in a direct line of perspective up the hard white drive to the hotel gates, and beyond that to the spires and pantiled roofs of Urbino, rose-pink against the mauve of even more distant hill-towns. The light-that splendid, golden Italian light which softened the edges of objects while at the same time mysteriously making them clearer and more resonant-filled Charlotte up like a rich, heavy wine. She thought: I will always know this place; I have already known it. For as a student in Florence she had admired these same hills and castles in a portrait of Urbino's greatest ruler, Federigo da Montefeltro, so that even before coming here she had known this as a landscape she could love. To her left was an equally familiar but altogether wilder view, of foothills rising steeply into the Apennines, only the odd ruined building holding back the encroaching woods and brush. It resembled the more grisly paintings she restored, early Flemish and German works of martyrs and crucifixions devoid of human optimism, their plunging chasms and savage torrents coded warnings for a violent or tragic life. She thought of the hill she was traversing as the spine of a decision neatly splitting the country into before and after, either/or. As she mentally tossed a coin (ruins or civilisation: which should she choose?), her attention was drawn to the only movement in that divided landscape, a raggedy flapping figure running fast out of thick woods on the uncultivated side of the hill. About two kilometres away, perhaps less, the figure was barely identifiable as human, and what humanity it had was contradicted by the pack of dogs that appeared out of the same woods a few moments later. Straining against long leads, they dragged behind them five hunters with guns protruding stiffly from their silhouettes like the broomstick arms of scarecrows. The baying of the dogs carried across the valley on an updraught of wind, so faintly that it seemed unconnected to the scene below. Charlotte at first imagined she was watching an Italian version of the mock hunts that took place near her parents' home in England, where the trail for the pack was laid by a sprinting man rather than a fox. But as the gap between the hunters and their prey closed, she saw the runner's movements become jerky, more inhuman; they conveyed a sense of urgency that negated any suggestion of play. The wedge of russet-coloured dogs and the hunters in loden green and brown were moving forward relentlessly, like part of the forest shifting itself, or a natural upheaval of the unforgiving earth. Excerpted from Waking Raphael by Leslie Forbes All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.