Length: 26 minutes
Reader: Robert Barnard
The story: Robert Barnard has become a successful author in the mystery world, but like The Secret Adversary for Agatha Christie, this story is a bit of a departure from the genre for which he is best known. After Prince Paulo loses much of his fortune in modern-day Italy, he (with the suggestion of his butler) opens his family’s art collection to viewing to raise money. To draw in the tourists, however, the Prince needs to show the one painting that the family has kept hidden for years: a portrait by Van Dyke.
This story is closer to the light horror genre than a whodunit. Though there isn’t a great deal of suspense in the plot, Barnard keeps the listener engaged through his use of dry British humor and an intriguing backstory for the painting. It’s not really a masterpiece, but the story delivers the entertainment it promises.
The reader: Barnard’s reading of this piece reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock’s introductions for the old “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” TV series. He has the same deadpan wit as Hitchcock and the same tendency for ghoulish understatement. Bernard’s cultured English accent and the inclusion of a classical piano piece during the breaks in the story sonically compliment the subject matter of intrigue in the art world.
Painting by Velaquez. "Portrait of Pope Innocent X"