Need some excellent summer reading, Nerd-Babes?

The New York Daily News called Arturo Perez-Reverte’s book The Club Dumas “beach reading for intellectuals,” and I wholeheartedly agree. I also recommend several of his books for those of you who like fun mystery-almost-sci-fi-smart-cliffhangers, but have read all the Sherlock Holmes stories way too many times and are far too discerning a reader to tolerate The Da Vinci Code. Allow me to recommend two of his books in particular to you: The Flanders Panel and The Club Dumas.

The Flanders Panel

Julia is a young art restorer that drinks lots of black coffee and vodka and whose best friend/surrogate father is an elegant gay man who owns an antique shop, named Cesar. See how cool our company is already? Julia is assigned a painting called The Chess Game, and all kinds of strange murder-mystery-meets-chess-game-puzzles ensue. First, she needs to figure out the puzzle within the painting, which hinges on the phrase, “Who Killed the Knight?” that she finds under a layer of paint. Then, she needs to have help to continue the chess game in the painting to head off the current murders taking place in her world.

There’s all kinds of in-depth art-appreciation scenes as well as paragraphs of fascinating chess-as-philosophy discussions amongst the artsy characters. Back in the day when I spent much of my time being all artsy in coffee shops (this was pre-hipster, people), the characters in this book made me so happy, as they discussed life and art and chess in long wonderful diatribes. Some delightful moments here, when Julia finds herself caught up in the story and images of the painting, and the painting’s story blends with hers. Also, a surprising ending. I didn’t actually foresee “whodunit” before I got there—let me know if you did.

The only drawback some people may have with this book (actually with Perez-Reverte in general) is its sometimes-longwindedness. What you need to remember is: a) this is just nutritious play for your brain. Get into it; and b) since Perez-Reverte is Spanish, anyone who doesn’t speak Spanish and/or doesn’t have the original Spanish edition, is perforce reading a translation. Which is way different than the original, as any bilingual person can tell you.

The Club Dumas

Two book-centered plots gallop along side-by-side in this book, its connective node being mainly Lucas Corso, an antique book hound. See how cool Perez-Reverte’s characters are? The elitist artsy type in me just revels in this stuff. Anyway, so one plot is about a handwritten chapter from Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. The other is about an ancient book called the Necronomicon, and trying to piece together the actual powerful woodcuts that appeared in the original as compared to the copies that made (perhaps conscious) mistakes. Book forgers, old aristocrats, Corso himself, and a mysterious woman who calls herself Irene Adler make up the complex characters. And a pretentiously arrogant, unreliable narrator. Also people who take on the personae of Three Musketeers characters.

You may know this book because of the Johnny Depp movie barely based on one of its plots, The Ninth Gate. This movie, though a fun thriller, and admittedly does bring some of the suspense of the book-hunting to life, doesn’t really touch on the mystery, the unexplained, the depth of the two plotlines of the novel working together. The movie goes with the Necronomicon plot and has nothing of the Dumas plot, nor does it play with the identity of Irene Adler as much—it treats her as a cardboard cutout, not an enigma. Without spoiling the plot, here’s what we should think about her: “Whoa, is that a symbol for what I think it is? No, no, it couldn’t be…” The movie shows too much of her mysterious identity too soon, and makes her into too much of a Resident Evil Alice sort of character.

The great thing about this book is similar to what’s great about The Flanders Panel: artsy characters, philosophical discussions, hair-raising chase scenes and fight scenes, and twisty endings. The drawbacks are also basically the same: it’s going to be a translation, unless you have the language and the special editions. An extra drawback to this one is if you’ve seen the movie first.

 

In conclusion, pick these two up by Arturo Perez-Reverte if you’re a nerd who loves art, puzzles, and a good, nail-biting, hair-raising adventure. After these two, feel free to move on to The Fencing Master, The Seville Communion, or any of his series about duelists or pirates. But I’d recommend starting here.

~Prof. Jenn