Frank Wilson has sent me his review of Captain Alatriste, from the Philadelphia Inquirer of 29 May last year. I’ve provided a link to the Inquirer web page where you can read other examples of Frank’s excellent work. Unfortunately I could not find this particular review on the Inquirer site for a link, but Frank has kindly given me permission to post an extract here. It is a far better review than the previous one I discussed (sorry, Brothers), and has convinced me to dust off the book and read it.
Captain Alatriste, By Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden
"In 1623, the Prince of Wales (later King Charles I of unhappy memory), accompanied by the Duke of Buckingham, made a clandestine visit to Madrid. The purpose of the trip was to bring about the marriage of Charles to the Infanta Doña Maria, sister of Spain’s young King Philip IV.This visit serves as the historical basis for Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s latest novel, the first in a series featuring a 17th-century Spanish soldier – a wounded veteran of the wars in Holland – supplementing his pension with work as a hired swordsman.
Capt. Diego Alatriste y Tenorio’s story is related by Iñigo Balboa, who at the time of the events being recounted is Capt. Alatriste ‘s 13-year-old page. He is the son of one of the captain’s comrades-in-arms, who was killed in battle.
The captain has been hired, along with a mysterious Italian, to waylay and rob a pair of travelers. They are given their instructions in a secret meeting with two masked men, one of whom is clearly someone of rank and power. It is he who insists that, while the travelers may be roughed up and even slightly wounded, they are not to be seriously harmed, let alone killed.
But when he leaves the room, another figure enters, one not wearing a mask. He is Fray Emilio Bocanegra, and he represents – you guessed it – the Holy Inquisition. He countermands the other’s order and instructs the swordsmen to make sure that both travelers are slain.Yet things proceed according to no one’s plan, and the captain finds himself in a heap of trouble."
"Not the least of this novel’s charms is Pérez-Reverte’s old-fashioned willingness to be educational. He really wants us to understand what his country was like on its "road to the abyss," and to feel the toll that journey took on the hard-boiled Alatriste, wearying of violence like an aging gunslinger, and on the more complex, real-life figure with whom the writer naturally identifies, Quevedo."
(Picture credit: Danijel Zezelj.)
The Flanders Panel is the only Perez-Reverte book I’ve read and I’m afraid I found it a bit dull. Hence, I’ve not read any other of Arturo’s works.
I was attracted to the art-themed mystery story but thought Michael Frayn’s Headlong was a much better example. After reading it, I headed off on city breaks to Brussels and Vienna to see all the Breughels I could. I recently saw another one in The Met in NYC and was reminded all over again of the wonder of the paintings and the excellence of Frayn’s book.
You can find Frank Wilson’s review here.
Thank you, Dave. Maybe you used Google cache to link — I tried via the Philly Inquirer home page and failed. One for Google if so. (And one for Dave Lull either way.)
And thank you, Giles G-B. Yet another one for my groaning Amazon basket! (I have enjoyed a few of Frayn’s books and loved the play "Copenhagen" (of course), but did not know about "Headlong".)