How to describe Painting by Numbers, the debut novel by Scottish author Tom Gillespie? It has elements of a thriller, aspects of suspense, it’s psychologically intriguing, but, in truth, it defies classification.
Jacob Boyce, the central character, is a university professor obsessed by an obscure Spanish painting in a Glasgow art gallery. He is convinced he can decipher clues within the picture and cannot bear to spend a moment away from it. This leads to conflict within his marriage and the loss of his tenure at the university. So far, so normal.
However, when his wife disappears Jacob follows Ella’s trail to Spain, where his search for her becomes mysteriously entangled with his quest to uncover the painting’s secrets. From this point onwards readers are taken on a rollercoaster ride the like of which they are unlikely to have travelled in any other book. This is not a book for the hard of thinking and requires no small amount of concentration to follow its complex and intriguing plot, but the effort is well rewarded when the finale is reached.
The ending is simply stunning and I want to read the novel again to see if the clues were obvious, if only I had known what to look for.
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