Troubled waters

In history, Canaletto was one of the most famous painters of scenic views of the 18th century, and Janet Laurence uses his visit to England in 1746 to provide an equally scenic landscape of the London of that time.

Canaletto came to England to rebuild his career by offering English landscapes to his English patrons. Laurence complicates his life by embroiling him in a domestic squabble, an arranged marriage between a cash-strapped aristocrat and a social-climbing merchant, and an investigation of the delays behind the completion of the Westminster Bridge.

Laurence’s book about the painter-turned-detective creates a moderately sanitized portrait of London. While it’s obvious that she did her research, she also didn’t want to confuse the reader with too many details that might distract from the story.

Although it seems like there’s a lot going on, Laurence capably breezes through the plot and runs the story in circles, showing what’s going on and then showing the characters learning what we already know. The plot treads with the pace and inevitability of a sitcom, which everything resolved in the final pages.

Like Canaletto’s painting which graces the cover — and which figures in the plot — Laurence shows us everything, but one wishes there were more to see.