Excerpt from Waking Raphael by Leslie Forbes, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Waking Raphael

by Leslie Forbes

Waking Raphael
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    Jun 2004, 430 pages
    Apr 2005, 448 pages

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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.

Excerpted from Waking Raphael by Leslie Forbes Copyright© 2004 by Leslie Forbes. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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