Debut Novel

The Bellini Madonna

Thomas Lynch is a libidinous aesthete and non-achieving art historian in disgrace for his sexual misdemeanours. There seems to be only one means of redemption – the opportunity to prove his long-standing theory of the existence of an uncatalogued Madonna by the great Venetian Renaissance master, Giovanni Bellini. Lynch’s obsessive search at last brings him to Mawle, a run-down English country house owned by the Roper family.

There, Lynch discovers a lost diary by the former owner of the house, James Roper, that puts him on the trail of the picture and immerses him in the lives, past and present, of the Ropers themselves. The Ropers are intent on keeping Lynch prisoner for reasons of their own, and he soon finds himself caught up in a sexual cat-and-mouse game. Where can James Roper have hidden the Madonna? And what possible role might Roper’s enigmatic great-granddaughter, Anna, have to play in solving the mystery of its whereabouts? In his search for the picture, Lynch – weakened by love and alcohol – has to confront a multitude of paradoxes: of desire and eroticism, art and life, truth and lies.

As the true relationships between the characters across the centuries emerge, it becomes clear that in life, as in art, nothing should be taken at face value.

Elizabeth Lowry’s acclaimed first novel

A mystery story, a love story and a comedy of errors set in that most familiar of locations – a ruinous country house – The Bellini Madonna is a compelling debut that entertains and unsettles in equal measure.

The Bellini Madonna Reviews

What people are saying

“A treat”

“This sparkling first novel is a treat for lovers of elegant mystery and exquisite prose… A delight”

The Times

“Beautiful prose”

“A wildly imaginative debut… The bold character work and beautiful prose are reason enough to keep reading”

Publishers Weekly


“Ambitious and accomplished… The Bellini Madonna is a compelling debut that entertains and unsettles in equal measure”

The Guardian

“Splendidly quirky”

“‘A complex narrative twists and turns back in time… Lowry has thrown a very considerable talent into [The Bellini Madonna], creating a splendidly quirky art historian… thoroughly enjoyable”

The Independent

“Ambitious and accomplished”

“Lowry’s accomplished novel mixes history, sex, psychology and art… An ambitious, accomplished piece of work, part rococo amusement, part darker philosophical judgment”

Kirkus Reviews

The Bellini Madonna Extract

This quarry was potentially far greater, and more elusive, than anything I had ever pitted my wits against before. At times the chances that I would find it and repeat my earlier success seemed nil. But then, only a year before this story begins, I at last succeeded against all my expectations in tracing the painting to a house in England.

No doubt I should have looked more closely at what I was pursuing, at the sinister machinery that had delivered it up to me, and run away in fear while there was still time.

“Genuine subtlety and distinction”

“Fusing the techniques of the thriller writer with those of historical fiction, Lowry additionally invokes an authentically Bellinian sense of distantly exact perspectives to create a first novel of genuine subtlety and distinction”

The Times Literary Supplement

“Slowly mounting suspense”

The Bellini Madonna has the slowly mounting suspense of an old-fashioned mystery…
Lowry is an accomplished wordsmith and storyteller”

The Boston Globe

“Sophisticated, parodic puzzler”

“Lowry’s lapidary tale of obsession, delusion, and turpitude has a playfully Jamesian cast to its elaborate ruminations on the perfection of aesthetics versus the messiness of life. This sophisticated, parodic puzzler tells an archly entertaining tale of misdirected ardour”


“Darkly witty”

“A damn sneaky tale of an art chase tangled with several centuries of obsessive love, devious and deviant behaviour, and twisted bloodlines… Lowry gets an A for her darkly witty, elegantly filigreed tale telling”

The Georgia Straight, Vancouver

“Multi-layered detective story”

“This is an unusual book: a debut novel that doesn’t feel like one. A multi-layered detective story wrapped in the sardonic confession of a not very likeable individual, the tone is caustic and intriguing… absorbing and marks the arrival of a new talent”

The Irish Examiner

“Smart, bold and surprising”

“It is a debut novel, but doesn’t feel like one at all. It is smart, bold and surprising, with nothing of the crowd-pleaser about it… a ghoulish cross between I Capture the Castle and The Picture of Dorian Gray… quite gripping”

The Spectator

“Wonderful dark humour”

“Thomas Lynch reveals himself to be a fabulous character in the great tradition of unreliable narrators, and Elizabeth Lowry weaves into the wonderful dark humour a genuinely moving tale”

Monica Ali