When Paul Calleja learns that his great-uncle has passed away, he drops everything and travels half-way round the world to deal with his estate.
Arriving in Malta he begins to find out how much he didn’t know about Larry in his lifetime, and meets and is attracted to Angelo – a local handyman and artist’s model – who seems to be concealing some extraordinary secret. It’s not long before Paul and Angelo are plunged into complications which will have a profound effect on both their lives – and also on their chances of a future life together …
Memories carried Paul to happier times and the echo of his uncle’s rich voice. “See, he’s still here. My Angelo. My Caravaggio. Who else used light the way he did? Who else worked straight to canvas with no preliminary sketches? I don’t give a damn what those so-called experts say-this is a Caravaggio, a rare and priceless jewel of a master’s art!” Uncle Larry came out with the same spiel every time Paul visited, and it hurt to stand in silence now. He gazed up at the face in the painting and sighed. Like his uncle, he would never tire of studying a countenance very much to his taste. The appeal had grown with every passing year, exponentially as he discovered and came to terms with his sexuality. Seeing it again was like meeting a friend he’d known all his life.
The unknown model hadn’t been the plump-faced pretty androgyne so often featured in Caravaggio’s work. By the standards of male beauty in the artist’s time, the man was not handsome. But the proud-boned features framed in a shoulder-length tangle of black hair were real. Eyes so blue their color seared, gazed from beneath frowning brows arched like a falcon’s wing. The level glare was fixed on a point above the viewer’s line of sight, and Paul always fancied he could read accusation there. Why did you allow this … The full, perfectly shaped mouth was set in anger and sorrow. In his clenched fists he held a cream-colored robe, splashed with blood. Gilded by diffused light, wings of iridescent black feathers were mantled, protecting the robe or whoever had worn it.
This was no adoring angel, soulful and acquiescent to God’s will. That fierce gaze challenged as well as mourned.
Lawrenz Calleja had always maintained the painting was a section removed from a much larger picture depicting the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, cut away because Caravaggio had refused to paint over it. He’d seen a letter from one of the artist’s patrons, or so he asserted. The writer had complained that Caravaggio was impossible-temperamental-unwilling to bow to the wishes of the one paying for his talent. Rather than change the offending section he had snatched up a knife and cut it away. Uncle Larry was convinced the letter referred to his angel. If he was right, and scientific tests would go a long way to proving it, the panel would be worth a fortune.
Not that the artist’s fame had been the reason why he’d bought the painting in the 1930s. It had belonged to a friend, Victor Mazzelli, from another old Maltese family. To say the younger Larry had fallen for the angel would be something of an understatement.
The artist’s tempestuous life story would have done justice to a TV soap opera, and it culminated in commissions from the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John on Malta, followed by a disastrous fall from grace that saw him incarcerated by them. The Mazzelli family tradition had it that Caravaggio had escaped from the Knights’ prison back in 1608, and had sold the painting to Manwel Mazzelli in order to buy passage on a ship away from Malta. However, no one took the legend seriously.
When Victor’s family hit financial problems just before the Second World War and was too proud to accept an outright gift or a loan, Larry had offered five hundred lira for it to help them out. The idea that it might indeed be an undiscovered masterpiece never crossed his mind, until a disparaging remark made by a lover after the war. The lover had rapidly become an ex, and Larry had started on the research trail.
Unfortunately, his technique was haphazard. He could never remember where he’d seen the transcript of that old letter, and refused to let the painting out of his possession for tests. He’d decided this was a genuine Caravaggio, and nothing visiting experts told him through the years made the slightest dent in his conviction.
Paul cleared the books off one of the shelves below the painting, and took the urn out of its box. “Here you go, Uncle,” he whispered, and carefully placed it below the angel. “I’ll take you to your favorite place, where we scattered Uncle Art’s ashes.” Ghar Lapsi was a tiny inlet and sea cave not far from Valletta. But then, distance was relative on the island.
Review by Elaine White
Book – Caravaggio’s Angel
Author – Chris Quinton
Star rating – ★★★★★
No. of Pages – 194
Cover – Kind of haunting
POV – 3rd person, past tense
Would I read it again – Yes!
Genre – LGBT, Contemporary, Paranormal
** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE AUTHOR, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **
Sadly, my Kindle ate all my notes when I was about 11% into the story. So there’s a really cute quote that I’d highlighted and some notes I’ve lost. Luckily, that was only a small portion of the overall story, and it’s a memorable part.
Caravaggio’s Angel is a beautiful story of self-discovery. It also explores the pain and separation caused by homophobia and the constraints of religion within a family. For me, the growth of the characters relationships was the most important aspect of the story – and though I include the romance, I don’t necessarily mean that’s the biggest aspect.
This story is as much about Paul and his family, as it is about Angelo and Caravaggio’s Angel. However, the progression of Paul’s friendship with Angelo – mostly borne through a sense of knowing each other and their shared history with Uncle Larry – was beautifully done. I never felt as though it was rushed or forced; regardless of how quickly or slowly it happened, Paul’s thought process and personality made it plausible.
Paul was a great main character to follow. He was so intriguing and the way he developed from a workaholic to a snap decision, trusting kind of person was really indicative of how much Malta had an effect on it. It wasn’t about Angelo changing him into someone else, but returning to his roots in Malta and rediscovering the care free guy he used to be, who loved to sit and capture a moment in time, to explore his homeland and just trust in his instincts. As if that wasn’t enough, the author so cleverly gave him a healthy dose of scepticism. When he first meets Angelo and makes the connection, he dismisses it as fanciful, ridiculous and his imagination. Then he looks for a logical and reasonable explanation, researching schizophrenia and even thinking up other reasons to explain away the only conclusion he keeps coming back to. Genius!
Similarly, I really liked Rogier and – although not alive during the book – Uncle Larry. They were both such characters and really supportive of Paul, through all the hard times. I even liked Charles Zammit, who tried to put Paul at ease, while dealing with the necessary evils of estate business, after a death. Other than his own family, I had a real sense that Paul was being taken care of, during the difficult time of losing his Uncle. And, although his father hadn’t long died, I understood the way he felt, harbouring more feelings for his Great-Uncle than for his own father. The reasons for that were well clarified, when and where necessary.
As for Calvin and Nico – boy were they a piece of work. Calvin is a really sick SOB, considering some of the things he said about Paul and Uncle Larry. Though, I have to admit that a part of me liked evil little Nico. He was interesting. I also really liked how he was introduced slowly, through hints and suggestions, before the big reveal. It made me interested in him.
Katie, on the other hand, was amazing! I loved how she just popped into the story (in a way that made total sense) but suddenly managed to tame the beast that is Calvin and handles all those boys at a dinner party, without batting an eyelash. Katie is my kind of girl and – can I just say – I LOVE the fact that there is a positive female character included in this story. Well, positive other than Nona and Paul’s mom, both of whom stuck by him. Because, all too often in MM books, the girls are either fag-hags or bimbos, and I’m so happy to see one that is neither. Katie is a normal, excitable, level-headed woman who is more than capable of handling the boys.
As I said before, the progression of relationships was fantastic. From Paul and Calvin’s relationship, the flashbacks to Paul’s relationship with Uncle Larry, and his actual relationship with Angelo, everything was handled with care. There was a consistent level of chemistry between Paul and Angelo, from even before they met and there were times when I wondered where everything would lead, as we were drip fed interesting little titbits along the way.
Honestly, I loved every minute of it. It wasn’t rushed or lazy. Everything happened just when it should have, both for the characters and the plot progression.
The writing style is a little different, because a lot happens at the start of the book, without much conversation. Mostly, Paul is having to deal mentally with two deaths at once – one that doesn’t matter much and the other that is sudden but crushing. So the mostly descriptive beginning of the story makes a lot of sense and is necessary.
The attention to detail – with the painting and the scenery – was so well done that I actually felt as I was there. I’ve been a big fan of Caravaggio ever since watching a documentary about his lost painting ‘The Nativity’ and I had high expectations for historical accuracy. I wasn’t disappointed. I could feel myself walking the streets of Malta, viewing the paintings through Paul’s eyes and seeing the artistry and history in each stroke.
Yes, there is some explicit sex – oh my! That thunder storm! – But it’s all appropriate and relevant to the story. A lot of the scenes are fade to black or behind closed doors when it won’t progress the action story, which is great because there’s no repeat bedroom antics. The stuff we see is stuff that’s important and HAWT as heck!
Overall, this was a beautiful story of love, life, and self-discovery. Paul had one incredible journey, and I wouldn’t be opposed to reading more.
The Caravaggio art work, history and the man himself were treated with great respect and care. The research was both well done and nicely twisted to fit the story. Fantastic!
“It seemed Angelo didn’t need to work on all of Paul’s tortured muscles to unravel the knots. They just surrendered. Paul could sympathize.”
“I’m here; he wanted to say, for as long as you need me to be. And that was when Paul knew he would be staying on Malta for the rest of his life, because even if Angelo disappeared in the next few seconds, the memories of him would keep Paul tethered to the island.”
““Then let me inspect your dude.” Rogier surveyed Angelo from head to toes. “Tall, check. Dark, check. Handsome, yeah, I guess so. Okay, Angel-babe, you pass muster so far. Just don’t mess with my boy or you’ll find this sweet, adorable exterior of mine has a devil-bitch inside.”
Chris Quinton started creating stories not long after she mastered joined-up writing, somewhat to the bemusement of her parents and her English teachers. But she received plenty of encouragement. Her dad gave her an already old Everest typewriter when she was ten, and it was probably the best gift she’d ever received – until the inventions of the home-computer and the worldwide web.
Chris’s reading and writing interests range from historical, mystery, and paranormal, to science-fiction and fantasy, writing mostly in the male/male genre. She also writes the occasional male/female novel in the name of Chris Power. She refuses to be pigeon-holed and intends to uphold the long and honourable tradition of the Eccentric Brit to the best of her ability. In her spare time [hah!] she reads, or listens to audio books while quilting or knitting. Over the years she has been a stable lad [briefly] in a local racing stable and stud, a part-time and unpaid amateur archaeologist, a civilian clerk at her local police station and a 15th century re-enactor.
She lives in a small and ancient city not far from Stonehenge in the south-west of the United Kingdom, and shares her usually chaotic home with her extended family, three dogs, a Frilled Dragon [lizard], sundry goldfish and tropicals
Her website is: http://chrisquinton.com
Her Facebook is https://www.facebook.com/chris.quinton.14