December 11, 2004

The Club Dumas

The Club Dumas
Arturo Perez-Reverte


(December 11, 2004)

Perez-Reverte writes wonderfully erudite, yet gripping metafictions. Here, rare book expert Lucas Corso is trying to validate what appears to be a manuscript chapter of The Three Musketeers, and to explain how a very rare copy of an old, condemned book of demonology -- only three copies escaped the inquisitorial flame -- comes to have nine plates when its bibliography in the 19th century says it had only eight.

This is a witty, scholarly, and well made book. It's got plenty of plot, though Perez-Reverte manages to make all the world droop with the dingy exhaustion of Spain after its Civil War.

And it's got a wonderfully-crafted portrait of Lucifer considered as a 20-year-old girl who is traveling through Europe with a backpack and a book, which on its own is worth the price of admission.

It's a good mystery though not, pace the NY Times, a thriller. A thriller is not a mystery you found exciting, but one that begins with a schlemiel who does something simple one day -- takes the wrong seat on a train, meets a stranger, wakes up in a strange place, sees a rabbit -- that changes everything and forces the poor schlemiel to run like hell in order to avoid even worse disaster and to claw his way back, against the laws of nature and man, to something like normality. Lucas Corso cannot be the hero of a thriller because he wants the upset and because the strange things that happen to him -- the dark strangers who follow him, the accidents that take place just after he leaves -- are, to him, all in a day's work.