Friday, November 18, 2011

Adventure classics -- A book, a beauty and the devil

The Club Dumas
by Arturo Perez-Reverte
A mysterious death leaves a beautiful widow. A wealthy businessman seeks arcane help to increase his power. And a shady hunter of lost books finds himself in league with, well, maybe the devil.
Not since Raymond Chandler has a detective story been as darkly intellectual as Spanish journalist Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas. And before Dan Brown, Perez-Reverte was hatching plots about secret societies and the awakening of supernatural forces that led me to slot this into “fantasy month” on this blog.
I’ve broken my own rule in dubbing a book less than twenty years old an adventure classic. (The Club Dumas was published in 1993, and translated into English in 1996.) But I’m tired of hearing people ask, “who’s that?” when I name Perez-Reverte as my favorite writer. Actually, I sometimes find this a convenient way to cut off people who ask me what kind of audience I’m aiming for with my own yet-to-be published adventure novel.
But ignorance of this Spanish writer among English speakers must surely lessen since the translations not only of his modern-day thrillers but of the historical adventures of his seventeenth-century hero, Captain Alatriste, played by Viggo Mortensen in the award-winning Spanish movie released in 2006.
Spanish speakers have already made the TV version of another of Perez-Reverte’s books, The Queen of the South, the most-watched novela premiere in Telemundo’s history.
The screen, unfortunately, was less kind to the film version of The Club Dumas. Released in 1999, Roman Polanski’s version was titled The Ninth Gate. Not even Johnny Depp as the lead could save it.
Enjoy the book, instead. The language is as lush as Chandler at his best -- “She was the type of woman who takes an age to light a cigarette and looks straight into a man’s eyes as she does so” -- is Perez-Reverte’s partial description of an easily consolable widow. And the literary quotations make an entertaining treasure hunt on their own as characters discuss Dumas, Conan Doyle, and Sabatini with equal flare.
Too bad Polanski’s film cut not only the subplot about the search for a missing Dumas manuscript but the literary references. Maybe the devil made him do it.

Want to know more about Perez-Reverte? See or exercise your Spanish at the sister site,
(Next Friday -- Adventure classics finishes a November of fantasy with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. You’ll never read “It was a dark and stormy night” the same way again.)

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