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Reviewed by Ioana Marza for Readers' Favorite
Tom Gillespie's Painting by Numbers is an intricate and elaborate illusion masterfully created to wrap around an ultimately classic plot. Dr. Boyce is a lecturer in Earth Sciences at Glasgow University who becomes obsessed with studying a lesser known baroque painting at the local museum. He believes the painting holds the key to explain phenomena outside art, like seismological movements. His wife Ella is increasingly displeased with this obsession that consumes him and endangers the normality of everything else in his life - his job and his marriage. One day Ella disappears and Boyce sets out in a quest to find her which takes him to Spain and to encounters with a multitude of strange characters that all somehow hold pieces of the puzzle relating back to the painting. And that's where reality starts to get more and more bizarre. And dark.
Gillespie's craftsmanship and command of language are undeniable. He carries what could have become a heavy, muddled scientific explanation with clarity and credibility. His knowledge of baroque is real. Painting by Numbers is very visual, prone to cinematographic adaptation - like a more art-based Vanilla Sky. I was mildly disappointed with the ending but, in hindsight, it brings the story down to earth from a point where the reader might start thinking the whole concept is getting overly surreal. I read it compulsively not just to find out what happens next, but because I enjoyed the descriptions, the art, the ambiguity; Gillespie's writing.