Arturo Perez-Reverte is an interesting and erudite novelist. A couple of years ago, I reviewed The Flanders Panel on this blog and recently I came across a book of his first published almost thirty years back, The Dumas Club. This is a novel about a book hunter, and ever since I was commissioned to write the story that became The Traitor, I've been particularly interested in books on that theme.
The book hunter in question is Lucas Corso, and like all good bibliophiles there is a touch of the obsessive about him. He becomes interested in a manuscript by Alexandre Dumas after the death of the man who recently sold it, whose name was Taillefer. The snag is that Taillefer's glamorous widow Liana is desperate to get it back. Corso consults an expert called Boris Balkan, who plays what I can only describe as a curious role in the story.
The plot thickens as we're given various illustrations, some of which contains clues, and are treated to a good deal of arcane book lore. The name of Roger Ackroyd is invoked, while Corso encounters a gorgeous woman (another one!) who calls herself Irene Adler. So, references to classic detection abound. Naturally this adds to the appeal so far as I'm concerned. However, I'm not sure that Perez-Reverte really justifies these connections in terms of the story. They are more like window-dressing.
This is a long novel, undoubtedly clever, but for me it didn't have the same brisk tempo of The Flanders Panel and I found it less appealing. Roman Polanski based his film The Ninth Gate, which I haven't seen, on the story, though I gather that his version makes many changes to the source material. I admire Perez-Reverte's ambition as a writer, but although this book has plenty of good ingredients, I wasn't bowled over by what he made of them.
Good afternoon, Martin. I think this is the first Forgotten Book you've covered that I've actually got - must be a sign of getting old that this seems quite a recent purchase, even though I bought it in the early 90s! The film's good fun - my wife and I have watched it twice, in fact - but it is only pretty loosely based on the book. I really enjoyed reading the first few Perez-Reverte novels - the two you mention, plus The Fencing Master and The Seville Communion - they were precursors I suppose of better-known and better-selling books like The Oxford Murders from a few years later. Then I made the mistake of revisiting him in the early 2000s only to find that he'd become an adventure story novelist writing about pirates!
Thanks, Mike. You're not getting old, it's just that I like to include the occasional more recent title! Yes, I'm not so keen on the pirates....
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