Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.
The Grand Master from Spain
Arturo Pérez- Reverte is the bestselling novelist in Spain. His historical adventures featuring the world weary swordsman for hire, Captain Diego Alatriste, are popular amongst the young and the old. For someone who came late to writing, at 35 years of age, he has certainly made up since. His 23 years as a war correspondent, chasing breaking news amidst dangerous surroundings like Bosnia, Sarajevo, Iraq and Nicaragua, has given him the penchant for adventure. He is sparse with his prose, meticulously plotting his fiction, yet never losing the grip over the sense of drama, pace and excitement.
His novels of intrigue and suspense such as The Fencing Master , The Flanders Panel , The Dumas Club, The Seville Communion, Nautical Chart and the Queen of the South have delighted millions in his native country and worldwide.
He has become a national darling in Spain as his Alatriste series is breaking all publishing records and sells out not only in his native country but now across the world. Originally only enjoyable in his native Spanish, his cult readership is now growing since his novels have gotten translated to English, French, Turkish and many other languages.
He is becoming the true contender to the throne of Rafael Sabatini, the early 1920s and 30s writer of historical potboilers like Captain Blood and Scaramouche. Pérez- Reverte’s latest book features Captain Alatriste battling the pirates of Barbary coast and has echoes of Sabatini’s The Sea Hawk.
Pérez- Reverte is a meticulous researcher as is evident in many of his novels. His war reporter instincts drives him to seek diverse plots and glorious and colourful historical backdrops like Spanish civil war and the battle of Trafalgar. The Captain Alatriste books take the protagonist through several key historical moments of the Spanish Golden age, exposing the readers to a time of adventure, romance and heroics. His war years have perhaps exposed him to the cruelty that mankind is capable of inflicting, making him cynical and world weary, suspicious yet supportive – many of the traits which his lead characters carry.
'He was not the most honest of men, not the most pious, but he was courageous' thus Captain Diego Alatriste gets introduced in his first book. He is down on his luck, a few spare coins, the clothes he wore and his cape, and his trusty sword that he always wielded with great skill, his only belongings. He is a swordsman for hire, and while he initially settles domestic quarrels and collects debts, soon he gets drawn into intrigue way out of his league. But he is not a man to be toyed with. He has hidden depth of chivalry and oodles of courage.
After his swashbuckiling introduction in Captain Alatriste, the swordsman goes on to be engaged in the purity demanded by Conversos, involved in the siege over Breda, fight for the King's gold in the Spanish treasure fleet, clashes with King Philip IV in yellow doublet and fights the Barbary pirates in Levant. All sparse, lean historical pot boilers that take you on a journey across the Golden age of Spain guided by the capable sword of El Capitan.
Accompanied by his trusty companion and narrator, young Inigo Balboa, he gets drawn into the politics of the time, palace intrigue, dusky courtesans, drunken poets and kindhearted prostitutes who are willing to share his tattered bed, all are present and correct.
Captain Alatriste Series
El capitán Alatriste
Limpieza de sangre
Purity of Blood
El sol de Breda
Sun over Breda
El oro del rey
The King's Gold
El caballero del jubón amarillo
The Cavalier in the yellow doublet
Corsarios de Levante
The Pirates of Levant
Alatriste in amazon
Popular Mysteries & Thrillers with intellect
Even his non historical adventures feature complex plots that have a sense of time and scale- be it the mysterious Flemish painting in the Flanders pane, the secret club of Dumas collectors in the El Dumas Club, the Spanish underworld in The Queen of the South, Vatican Intrigue in the Seville Communion, 19th century Fencing in the Fencing Master, the Treasure hunting in the Nautical Chart or the Semi Autobiographical tale of a veteran war photographer in A painter of Battles.
His love of books by writers such as RL Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Alexandre Dumas drew him to adventure at an early age of 18. His time as a journalist has given him the penchant for detail.
Here are some of my favourites:
The Fencing Master
Set in Spain in mid 19th century, this meditative novel features the Fencing Master, Don Jaime Astarloa. After the Glorious revolution, the fencing master settles for a life of ascetic existence, sustaining himself on meagre earnings from fencing lessons to nobility and rich youth. Intrigue arrives in the form of a woman who asks him to teach her the 'secret 200 escudo thrust' a deadly fencing move.
Obsessed by her mysterious past and her strange request, Don Jaime, despite his desire to remove himself from any politics or affiliation, gets drawn into a web of deceit. The backdrop is rich with detail and many of the dialogues and discussions in the book are enjoyable scene setting from mid 19th century Spain and the art of fencing. Highly readable and announces the arrival of a major talent.
The Flanders Panel
One of my favourite books and the very first I read of Perez- Reverte, this is the book that got me into his work. This is a fantastic mystery, laden with atmosphere and highly readable.
Young Julia, an art restorer leading a quite life in Madrid, discovers a strange message appearing on a 1471 Flemish painting called La partida de ajedrez (The Chess Game ) while restoring it. The message reads "Qvis Necavit Eqvitem ", written in Latin. It means, 'Who killed the Knight ?'
With the help of her old friend César, and Muñoz, a bedraggled local chess master, Julia figures out that the painting hides the secret of a 500 year old murder. But there are other forces afoot, a series of murders in modern day disrupt her investigations and she is caught up in a race against time, as uncovering the mystery of the message could be the only way she could save her life.
The Club Dumas
Another of my favourites as it is set in the world of antiquarian book trade. Book dealer and an expert in historical rare manuscripts, Lucas Corso is hired to authenticate a rare copy of a manuscript by Alexandre Dumas pere. His investigation leads him to a mysterious and secret club of Dumas collectors. He unravels the existence of a book called De Umbrarum Regni Novem Portis ( the Book of Nine Doors and the Kingdom of Shadows).
What starts a simple task of authentication soon spirals out of control and involves murder, devil worship, frantic bibliophiles who will got any lengths to secure a book of their passion and alluring women with a dark past. The journeys leads to Madrid, Paris and to Portugal and ends in a satisfying climax.
The Seville Communion
A hacker breaks into the Pope's personal computer at the Vatican and leaves a cryptic message , ' In Seville Spain, there is a group of merchants threatening a house of god and a small church kills to defend itself'. Intrigued by the message, the Vatican dispatches Father Lorenzo Quart, a church trouble shooter from the Holy Office's Institute of External Affairs, a kind of KGB for the clergy.
Father Quart travels to Seville and finds mystery and mayhem surrounding a small 17th century church, Our Lady of Tears. A greedy merchant who wants the land, his feisty and alluring wife who wants to spoil his plans, the fierce father of the local parish who will defend his church at any cost and local thugs for hire.
All woven into an entertaining web of deceit and double cross, culminating in a satisfying twist when all is unravelled.
The Nautical Chart
Much like his beloved R L Stevenson, Perez-Reverte, sets his next tale as a gripping treasure hunt.Tánger Soto, a beautiful woman at the centre of this tale, uncovers the location of the ship Dei Gloria 200 odd years after its sinking. Enlisting the help of wily sea dog, Manuel Coy, Tánger manipulates him into setting of on a dangerous treasure hunt, involving maps, charts and misdirections.
Manuel discovers that the woman hides many a secret just like the sunken brigantine they are searching for also does. Off the southern Coast of Spain, the mystery and adventure unfolds.
This salty sea tale is worthy of many an old fashioned adventure, featuring rich and colourful characters, twists and pacy writing and a rich plot.
El maestro de esgrima
The Fencing Master
La tabla de Flandes
The Flanders Panel
El club Dumas
The Dumas Club
La sombra del águila
La piel del tambor
The Seville Communion
Un asunto de hono
La carta esférica
The Nautical Chart
La Reina del Sur
The Queen of the South
El pintor de batallas
The Painter of Battles
Un día de cólera
He is a lifetime member of the Spanish Royal Language Academy or RAE. He has won several awards and accolades. But perhaps he treasures the faithful readership that is growing fast more than titles and accolades. He is a writer asking us to invest some time and patience, his meticulously plotted novels often maturing like fine wine, with layers of bouquet that unfold to the true connoisseur. He may be accused of nostalgic longing for times bygone, sometimes using his characters to discuss politics and philosophy in long passages o dialogue that may detract from the plot. For those who like their books for the story as well as a sense of time and intellect, Pérez- Reverte is your man.
Film and Television Adaptations
As with most novels of devious complexity,Pérez- Reverte's books are hard to adapt. He adds layers of such rich detail, debate and discourse a film version is bound to loose a lot of this rich tapestry. However people have tried with various levels of success.
Polanski directed a pre-pirates Johnny Depp in the Ninth Gate, a loose adaptation of the Dumas club, trying to re-discover his Rosemary's Baby. It didn't really fare well at the box office.
Our Aragorn himself, Viggo Mortensen, starred in a semi successful version of Captain Alatriste, trying to swash his buckle yet again with his swordsmanship, with some better audience. It still wasn't the hit it could've been. The film is a very rich production with gorgeous production design.
Uncovered is a lesser known British film adaptation of the Flander's panel, has some good cast and the story itself is one of his better novels. An art restorer Julia uncovers a mysterious message on an old Flemish Painting. what follows is a blend of past and present as mysterious forces reach far across time and more blood is spilled as she tries to uncover the mystery of the painting and the message' who killed the knight'. Although it has good British acting talent, the screenplay veers so much from the rich complexity of the book, even Pérez- Reverte disowned it, I think.
Pérez- Reverte has perhaps fared better in the European telvision adaptations of his Seville Communion and a production of the Spanish underworld story, La Reina del Sur, is in production currently.
If you have a thirst for intelligent, detailed, well plotted and well characterised adventure novels , give Arturo a try. It will be well worth your while.
Trailer of Capitan Alatriste
© 2010 Mohan Kumar
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on December 18, 2010:
Thanks, hope you enjoy some of his work..!
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 18, 2010:
Great review of Arturo Pérez- Reverte. I was not familiar but several of those books sound intriguing. This is an excellent hub that seems to cover all this work. Thanks for this information.