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Waking Raphael

Waking Raphael

3.8 5
by Leslie Forbes

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La Muta, "the mute woman." Amidst a country rocked by scandal and corruption, inhabitants of the idyllic city of Urbino, Italy, birthplace of Raphael, are more concerned with a sudden outbreak of miracles than with politics. But what unspeakable secret lies hidden in Raphael's enigmatic painting? Its restoration will drive a living mute to a shocking act of violence


La Muta, "the mute woman." Amidst a country rocked by scandal and corruption, inhabitants of the idyllic city of Urbino, Italy, birthplace of Raphael, are more concerned with a sudden outbreak of miracles than with politics. But what unspeakable secret lies hidden in Raphael's enigmatic painting? Its restoration will drive a living mute to a shocking act of violence and spark an investigation into a nearly forgotten war crime and a series of events that will shatter the silence gripping this community forever.

Both a mesmerizing thriller and a passionate exploration of the power of truth to effect reconciliation and restore faith, Waking Raphael spins a tantalizing web of silence and lies to recreate an Italy where the romantic and the violent, the comic and the tragic, are spellbindingly interwoven.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
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 Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The restoration of a famed Raphael canvas reveals matters far more scandalous than hidden brushstrokes in Forbes's magical Italian idyll. British art expert Charlotte Penton has come to Urbino to supervise the restoration of La Muta, one of the few portraits to remain in Raphael's hometown. Because Charlotte's reserve comes across as snobbery on television, her commentary's being put into the mouth of Donna Ricco, a well-endowed, good-hearted, empty-headed Canadian girl who's slept with exactly the right people to get the job. But the rivalry between the two women is only the tip of the paintbrush, as a local wild woman called La Muta reveals during a reception when she attacks the painting with a knife. Although La Muta, who hasn't spoken for 50 years, misses Count Dado Malaspino, the worldly hotelier widely believed to be her target, her assault on the painting draws miraculously real blood-and a pair of dueling experts intent on debating the miracle. Professor Andrea Serafini, of the Italian Commission for the Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, is a professional debunker; Monsignor Seguita, a forensic pathologist from the Vatican, a professional authenticator. Their ceaseless debate, however, misses the real mystery Charlotte and Donna focus on. Whatever her target was, what was La Muta's connection to the Nerruzzi pig-farming consortium, the shadowy force behind a recent epidemic of violence in the bucolic town, and why was she so intent on inflicting damage for wrongs that may go all the way back to the closing days of WWII and the destruction of the village of San Rocco? Their investigations prove once more that "nothing is ever simply itself in Italy."As in Fish, Blood andBone (2001), Forbes uses the conventions of the romance and the thriller, transforming and discarding them at will, to illuminate the mysterious connections between past and present and bring a pair of ardent and uncommonly appealing heroines to life.
From the Publisher
"Deftly exploring connections between art, religion, and politics, Forbes layers her mystery with lush imagery and palpable human drama.... For fans of Perez-Reverte or Iain Pears."

"Excellent.... The characters are richly drawn.... The novel will captivate and delight."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Transcends the limitations of the genre with ease, not merely because of the author's prodigious erudition, polished prose style and sophistication as a storyteller, but because she has created a character one cares about....A learned whodunit in the tradition of The Name of the Rose."
—The Wall Street Journal on Fish, Blood & Bone

"Beguiling entertainment."
—The Washington Post on Fish, Blood & Bone

"Gives new meaning to the term "intelligent page-turner.""
Kirkus Reviews on Fish, Blood & Bone

"Lavish and sexy...conveys a sense of India so rich that it ceases to seem a mere country."
—The New York Times Book Review on Bombay Ice

"A riveting murder mystery...complex and vastly entertaining...the toughest, most sympathetic heroine since SMILLA'S SENSE OF SNOW."
Harper's Bazaar on Bombay Ice

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Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt


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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Leslie Forbes is the author of four award-winning travel books and the internationally bestselling novels Bombay Ice, a Sunday Times bestseller, and Fish, Blood, & Bone, which was nominated for the Orange prize. She lives in London.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Waking Raphael 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'll admit, this is one book that I could not put down but only because I was expecting that at any moment it would get better. That moment never came. This book is a unique exploration of human depravity, complete with depictions of torture. I wanted to like the characters, to care how they ended up, but I just didn't. Most of the book is simply confusing and not in a suspenseful way. I enjoy books with depth and commend the writer for taking on a challenging subject, but I expected much more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I recomend this book, it was very interesting although the ending was not as good as I thought it was going to be.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was definatly one that I couldn't just put down. It keeps you in suspence and with each event it keeps building to where you want to explode. Very nice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Middle age art restorer Charlotte Penton travels to Urbino, Italy to work on a fabulous project, restoring a faded Raphael painting, La Muta, The Silent Woman. The renovation assignment is difficult as Charlotte must first peel away the previous ¿repairs¿ to get to the basic masterpiece. Then she applies skill, experience and guesswork to mend the painting................................... Following Charlotte to Urbino is youthful Canadian media star Donna Ricco, who is the pretty girl frontal visage for an arts restoration program. Donna quickly finds the tedious meticulous work boring, but knows she must bear it if she is to get ahead in her career. When a mute woman defames the masterpiece, the two visitors see it differently. Charlotte is appalled but wants to learn why while a gleeful Donna sees a terrific story. As the two North Americans combine resources to learn the truth, they will open up secrets from the war and much more about grandmasters that the town¿s elderly want left hidden....................................... This engaging tale hooks the reader from the moment that the mute woman desecrates La Muta because the mystery within a mystery is embedded in an incredible background tidal wave of art, history, legends with a hint of the paranormal, local politics, and religion. The lead duo is dynamic opposites except both have energy that will make a marathon runner feel like a couch potato. Fans of crime thrillers with an edge will want to read WAKING RAPHAEL and obtain Leslie Forbes¿ previous tales, BOMBAY ICE and FISH, BLOOD AND BONE as this reviewer plans to do............................... Harriet Klausner