Friday, September 7, 2007

Queen of the South, Club Dumas, Fencing Master, Seville Communion, Nautical Chart

Let's step away from Tibet and China for a moment to discover and briefly discuss Arturo Perez-Reverte, Spain, Mexico and a wild ride across the continent of Europe. This selection of books spans the very broad range of this master storyteller from Spain.

(a) The Fencing Master is a period-piece swashbuckler, with a twist or two or ten- a joy to read, a thrilling ride, and offering a secret fencing move. I read it a while ago. Having fenced on foil for a short while in college, and on epee in graduate school, betrays a lifelong fascination with the sport and the art that makes me readily susceptible to such stories: as a youngster I read The Scarlet Pimpernel and other books, like the Prisoner of Zenda, that hark back to days when evil men left scars on the faces of their antagonists, and Royalty was going in and out of favor throughout Europe. The Perez-Reverte book is more detailed about life, politics, history and its characters than Pimpernel or Zenda were, and is written with much richer language, though the latter two books remain a good summer reading (and the Scarlet Pimpernel will show you a thing or two about the French revolution). Perez-Reverte's book was apparently made into a feature film in Europe, but that doesn't seem readily available. A pity, perhaps, because little goes together as well as a good sword, a beautiful and mysterious woman who fences brilliantly, and an old master with all the moves.

(b) The Club Dumas is a contemporary supernatural thriller with antiquarian leanings, also brought to the silver screen, with temptation lurking around every corner and salvation perhaps nowhere to be found. It rushes through Europe faster than a middle school class on Spring Break: I used an Atlas a few times (and I've lived in Europe). It was made into a film starring Johnny Depp and directed by Roman Polanski (a favorite director of mine). The movie is entertaining. The book is intriguing- it pulled me into its riddles and mysteries, and a very good read.

(c) The Nautical Chart, a contemporary story of greed intertwined with sunken treasure from the Spanish empire, a ne'er do well sailor cut from the same cloth as Philip Marlowe, and museum curators: it contains some of the most brutal and tragic betrayal imaginable, along with wonderful seafaring, diving, that ever-elusive Jesuit treasure, and navigational mysteries and histories around the treacherous waters off Spain and Gibraltar.

(d) The Seville Communion, a story where where Vatican enforcers battle (apparently) a small parish church in Seville. Defending the church may be a set of miracles along with those parishioners who would like to prevent it from being sold off knocked down in the name of progress. Is the church really protecting itself? Are the results of miracles being witnessed? Who is the brilliant computer hacker who has penetrated Vatican accounts, and what prices must be paid when you do get want you want? How many bodies will be sacrificed? To what lengths will the church, the enforcer and the ladies of of the church go? Read it and find out!

e) The Queen of the South, is my pick for book of your book of the year (it already was mine a while back). The story starts with drug running from Mexico to the US, in a world where dying well enough to earn a personal folk song (corrido, or narco-corrido) is the highest ambition of many of the foot soldiers. Things move abruptly to North Africa and Spain, and eventually return to the scene of the first page, back in Mexico. The story does not have a linear timeline, it begins at the end, or just before the end, and then backtracks through the long journey from home, abroad, and back again. We follow the rise of a remarkable woman from naive drug moll, running scared with good reason, to the greatest heights of the international drug trade. Much of her education comes from a stay in Spanish prison after yet another of her men has died on the job (running drugs around treacherous coastlines while dealing with fast pursuit from naval ships and helicopters). Being her friend is exhilarating until it ends your life, one way or another, but there may be no greater glory than do die in the service of the Queen. Your song will be forever sung.

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