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By Arturo Perez-Reverte
Translated from the Spanish by Sonia Soto
New York: Vintage Books, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-77754-7 362 pages

Bob Corbett
August 2015

As the novel opens rare book dealer Lucas Corso visits Boris Balkan, a famous book expert. Corso brings with him a fragment of an alleged original manuscript of an Alexander Dumas’ work, but this visit is actually a fake for a different purpose.

Corso had gotten this manuscript from Enrique Taillerfer, a man who just days before had been found dead, either by suicide or murder. Corso and Balkan are both experts on rare and famous manuscripts. Corso is sort of a dealer in them and Balkan a professor who is a leading expert on old and rare manuscripts.

Oddly enough, although Boris Balkan rarely enters into the novel after this first visit, he is actually the narrator of the tale, though Lucas Corso is the main character. Boris says of himself that he is “. . . the near-omniscient narrator of Lucas Corso’s adventures.”

Another very rich book collector, Varo Borja, has hired Corso to work for him to seek a particular rare book, or to verify that his own copy of this book is a fake.

Thus we enter into a world of a strange group of very rich collectors of old, rare and wildly expensive manuscripts, with book dealer and sort of book detective Lucas Corso as the leading figure.

This strange journey of Lucas Corso in a quest that actually involves three manuscripts: a chapter from Dumas’ THE THREE MUSKATEERS, a rare text called THE NINTH GATE which it tied to various legends and theories about devils and their interaction with humans, and the missing chapter of the Dumas’ work that Enrique Taillerfer had owned.

There is danger, adventure, book lore galore, theories about contact with devils and other dark spirits with a good deal of travel and mayhem thrown in. One even adds to the mix a simply gorgeous young woman who shows up early on as a mysterious “body guard” for Corso on his quest of these manuscripts which are missing. The novel is simply FULL of adventure, mystery, mayhem, murder, travel and completely exotic characters.

And it is lots and lots of fun.

Most readers will, I think, come to like Lucas Corso and his beautiful young companion, yet Corso is anything but an ideal leading man. He is knowledgeable of rare and ancient books and their contents; he is well-connected and respected in the business as well. Yet he isn’t above taking the law into his own hands, and using people and resources as he needs without much concern if some get hurt along the way.

And along that way several do get hurt, even murdered, none of which seems to much bother Corso or his beautiful young body guard.

Corso weaves the story of the relationship of theories of the powers of devils in relation to human beings, with a profound knowledge of ancient and important texts, and with a gentle and growing love relationship he is developing with his young bodyguard who may or may not be a “normal” human being.

The reader is treated to a dozen or more great adventures along the way, traveling to various European cities and constantly meeting more and more bizarre characters.

Corso slowly and methodically weaves his story, his growing understanding of what is going on, or at least so he thinks, and I would guess, so will most readers following his adventures and the development of his understanding.

A difficulty for this reader and I would think for others as well is that there is a massive amount of information of esoteric theories of relations between humans and devils and other evil spirits, and a great deal of this lore is rehearsed in the book. If the reader isn’t very knowledgeable of this literature, as I wasn’t, then there would be many many pages of quite esoteric debates and ideas that might begin to weigh on the reader’s patience.

However, I think the entire struggle with the esoteric world seems worth it for the incredibly startling and fascinating surprise ending of which I won’t mention anything except for its existence. I was completely unprepared and totally delighted with the novel’s ending.

The novel takes, I believe, a persevering reader, yet in the end I think the reader is rewarded with lots of information that many readers will not know very well, and with a fascinating detective way with a host of utterly bizarre characters.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett