(Jump over to read a review of The Fencing Master)
(Jump over to read a review of The Seville Communion)
"The Nautical Chart"
(Reviewed by Hagen Baye NOV 7, 2004)
Arturo Perez-Réverte is said to be the author who single handedly got his fellow Spaniards to start buying books again. If his novel, The Nautical Chart, is representative of his writing and story-telling skills, then I see good reason for that.
The main action of The Nautical Chart is a search for sunken treasure, which makes for a fascinating story of mystery and intrigue. Coy, the main character, is a sailor adrift on land, his pilot’s license having been suspended for two years due to an accident that was not his fault. Killing time, he wanders into a maritime auction in Barcelona. He witnesses a hotly contested bidding war over an old nautical chart between a woman he finds himself attracted to and an increasingly agitated fellow who is beside himself with fury when the woman outbids him for the chart.
The woman is Tanger Soto, a curator at the Naval Museum in Madrid. Coy eventually learns that the chart Soto acquires was the one that guided sailors on a ship secretly owned by the Jesuit religious order, the Dei Gloria (The Glory of God), which was sunk off the coast of Spain in 1767 by a pirate ship. Both the Dei Gloria and the pirate ship sank as a result of the violent encounter. The ship’s boy was the sole survivor and he had on him a slip of paper with the coordinates noted for the Dei Gloria’s location just before it went down. Soto’s research gave her reason to believe that the Dei Gloria was bearing something valuable which was never recovered, and she made it her private mission to recover it. She enlists Coy to assist her in what proves to be a difficult and dangerous venture. Despite numerous doubts (particularly about Soto’s true motivations), Coy agrees to assist her.
The loser to Soto at the auction for the chart is a Nino Palermo, reputed to be an unscrupulous treasure hunter, whose firm Deadman’s Chest is based in Gibraltar. Palermo claims that Soto learned of the existence of the Dei Gloria’s treasure from him and he insists on a piece of any resulting find, which insistence is backed by threats that Palermo and the thugs in his employ appear ready, willing and able to carry out.
Soto and Coy are faced with a number of challenges. They have to analyze and interpret the scant contemporaneous documents about the sinking of the Dei Gloria and decipher the old nautical chart and estimate where that ship went down and where it may be nearly 250 years later, a task whose difficulty is compounded by the lack of a uniform point of reference in 1767, unlike today. Soto and Coy also have to go on faith that the coordinates noted on the sole survivor’s sheet are accurate. Further, interference from Palermo and his goons is an additional concern, as well as the authorities, as Spanish law does not follow the precept of “finder’s keepers” when it comes to lost treasure. Finally, there is the challenge of physically getting to the sunken wreck to locate and retrieve the treasure; there are concerns regarding the depth of the wreck and whether divers will be able to get to the treasure without special equipment.
In short, it is an extremely difficult task with success far from certain. Coy and Soto are not even sure if there was treasure on the ship in the first place. And even if there was, no one could be sure that it was still buried under the sea’s bottom and obtainable. Among other things, it is possible that someone else has already gotten to it during intervening centuries and kept quiet about it.
The book covers more than the search for the sunken treasure. Perez-Reverte provides extensive background for the main story. He explores the nature of things maritime: the evolution of the art of calculating location at sea; the psyche of the sailor and sailors’ whoring, brawling ways, as well as the life and death challenges of the tempestuous and unpredictable sea, and the courage and fears sailors display in such challenges. Also, the circumstances surrounding the banishment of the Jesuit order (later rescinded), and narrative tours of Barcelona, Madrid, Gibraltar and the port town of Cartegena—are also among the wealth of information nicely woven into the story. The reading experience is educational, entertaining and exciting, all at the same time.
The Nautical Chart is said to not be Perez-Reverte’s best work. If this is so, then this is definitely an author to be read, just as his fellow Spaniards have discovered to their great delight.
- Amazon readers rating: from 47 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Nautical Chart at the author's website(back to top)
"The Seville Communion"
(reviewed by Judi Clark MAY 23, 1999)
A hacker breaks into the Vatican's computer to leave a message for the Pope that says that there i's a church in Seville that "kills to defend itself." It turns out that there is a church that some want to tear down and to be replaced with a more profitable adventure. And two people have died accidentally. Abhorring any kind of scandal, the Catholic Church gets the IEA (Institute of External Affairs) to look into the matter. They send Father Lorenzo Quart to impartially gather information about the unfortunate incidents of this run down Baroque church called Our Lady of the Tears and to determine the hacker's identity. Quart is not your Father Confessor. He's well dressed, good looking, secretive and a good Intelligence soldier for the Church. Soon he finds that the answers in Seville are not the ones he is seeking.
For me, this was not a fast read, which is a positive statement. Seville is a very enchanting, old place which Pérez-Reverte describes in a style that engages all of our senses. He creates some very unforgettable characters that are reinforced with repeated descriptions. The plot is thick with politics, greed, history, yet moves along at pace that can be compared to a pleasant walk through Seville (which there are many of). I would not call this an action thriller or a "page-turner" as it wanders a bit too much and I did have to go back to the beginning and start again during the second chapter. But there is something that compelled me to the end. The concern with old fashioned faith, love, commitment and the philosophy thereof are intellectually satisfying. There are some humorous scenes and the ending twists a few times. Perhaps the most rewarding surprises are Father Quart's decisions and the true meaning behind the title of the book.
I recommend the book, but with one caveat; read it because it takes you to Seville, not because you are looking for a good hacker mystery.
- Amazon readers rating: from 90 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Seville Communion at the author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Club Dumas (1993; 1996 in US) (in Spanish)
- The Flanders Panel (1994; 1996 in US) (in Spanish)
- The Seville Communion (1995; 1998 in US) (in Spanish)
- The Fencing Master (1999 in US) (in Spanish)
- The Nautical Chart (2000; 2001) (in Spanish)
- The Queen of the South (2002; 2004 in US)
- The Painter of Battles (2008)
El Capitán Alatriste Historical Series (in process of being translated to English):
- Captain Alatriste (1996: 2005)
- Purity of Blood (1997; 2006)
- The Sun Over Breda (1998; 2007)
- The King's Gold (2000; 2008)
- The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet (2003; 2009)
- Pirates of the Levant (2010)
Other historical novels:
Movies from books:
- The Ninth Gate (1999) based on The Club Dumas
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- The official English website for Arturo Pérez-Reverte
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Queen of the South
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Painter of Battles
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About the Author:
Arturo Pérez-Reverte was born in 1951 in Cartagena, Spain. . A retired war journalist, he covered conflicts in Angola, Bosnia, Croatia, El Salvador, Lebanon, Libya, Nicaragua, Romania, the Persian Gulf, and Sudan, among others. He now writes fiction full-time.
His books have been translated into 34 languages in 50 countries and have sold millions of copies. In 1998, Club Dumas was nominated for A World Fantasy Award. Watch for the Roman Polanski movie starring Johnny Depp called The Ninth Gate. It is based on The Club Dumas.
Pérez-Reverte lives in Madrid, Spain, where he was recently elected to the Spanish Royal Academy.