The Club Dumas
By: Arturo Perez-Reverte
Lucas Corso, middle-aged, tired, and cynical, is a book detective, a mercenary hired to hunt down rare editions for wealthy and unscrupulous clients. When a well-known bibliophile is found hanged, leaving behind part of the original manuscript of Alexandre Dumas”s The Three Musketeers, Corso is brought in to authenticate the fragment.
The task seems straightforward, but the unsuspecting Corso is soon drawn into a swirling plot involving devil worship, occult practices, and swashbuckling derring-do among a cast of characters bearing a suspicious resemblance to those of Dumas”s masterpiece. Aided by a mysterious beauty named for a Conan Doyle heroine, Corso travels from Madrid to Toledo to Paris in pursuit of a sinister and seemingly omniscient killer.
I picked this book up as a result of my search for books with similar themes to Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind: love of books, a mystery, focus on a particular classic—what’s not to draw me in? Spoilers ahead!
The set up of the novel was interesting, with two issues/manuscripts central to the story: one involving Dumas, and one involving a peculiar book called The Ninth Gate (enter Polanski’s movie The Ninth Gate starring Johnny Depp; from my understanding of the movie (which I have yet to watch), the movie focuses on this particular story branch rather than on both)). Corso goes off to authenticate The Ninth Gate while at the same time trying to get the owner of a particular Dumas manuscript to sell it off. The nature of books, one’s love of books and the process of authenticating old manuscripts weave in and out of the mystery, which was interesting to read about and it really makes you think. There’s a lot of references to classics and earlier literature and while the novel does refer back to The Three Musketeers quite a bit, you don’t have to have read the whole classic to understand the novel (The Three Musketeers has been on my mental want-to-read list forever). I also found that a bit of French history also helps.
There is a supernatural element involved in the story but thankfully it’s not as big of a plot-mover as I initially expected it to be. At the same time, that element is present and does play a role to a certain extent towards the end but I didn’t find its presence wholly ridiculous in the grand scheme of the story.
What also really drove the story was the cast of characters involved in the mystery: the widow Liana Taillefer, the informed Boris Balkan, the friendly but self-preserving Flavio La Ponte, the suspicious and eerie figure Corso calls “Rochefort” and the mysterious girl who goes by the name of “Irene Adler”. Throughout the novel, I had been furiously wondering who could be the one behind all the craziness, who’s really an ally to Corso, what’s their motivation, etc. The mysterious girl who called herself Irene Adler was one that had me wondering for a long while because she could be either/or, one or the other (if you read the novel, you know what I mean). While they all drove the plot of the story, the only character you really get a good characterisation of is the protagonist, Lucas Corso. Cynical, detached, mercenary and rather a chain-smoker who enjoys a glass of gin, he fits the role of the book detective who’s completely immersed in books and literature. He was an interesting person and while by the end of the novel it doesn’t seem like he’s evolved much as a character, at least he has the possibility of something resembling a happy ending.
Overall, the mystery was interesting that has you wondering how everything will turn out in the end. I thought the twist in the second last chapter was interesting and brought the story to a full circle. There’s something about Perez-Reverte’s writing style that really captures your attention and adds to the overall story. All in all, it was a very captivating read and I definitely recommend it to anyone who loves literature, reading, books and an interesting mystery.