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by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Harvest Books, September 2000
245 pages
ISBN: 0156006847

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Arturo Perez-Reverte writes not only with great intelligence and style, but also with a keen sense of suspense, a facility for limning character, and an effortless skill for staging his settings. Each setting is different, yet each gives the reader an inner feel for a specialized sub-branch of knowledge, be it the Catholic Church, navigating the sea, or becoming exposed to the language and movements of fencing.

If there's a pattern to his novels, it's in his choice of protagonists. His books usually feature a strong, honest man highly knowledgeable in his field, but perhaps a bit out of touch or not overly concerned with the rest of life. This man is put into a romantically confrontational relationship with a determined, highly self-confident woman whose beauty is partly derived from her strength of character. The man and woman are on a quest that they may pursue together or independently, but they are not united in purpose. Conflict is double-barreled, manifested between the hero and heroine as well as between the pair of them and the villain.

In THE FENCING MASTER, the protagonist, Don Jaime Astarloa, is an honored and honorable aging fencing master, and the female lead is a lovely, mysterious woman, Adela de Otero, of almost 30 years, who is already more than adept at fencing, but who wants to learn from the maestro an 'unstoppable thrust' that he has developed.

Their milieu is Madrid of 1868, where Isabella II sits on a throne threatened by Carlista claimants on the one hand and liberal revolutionaries on the other. People try to go about their ordinary business and pleasures, but are always distracted by demonstrations, rumors, and a show of police and military strength.

Only too aware of their age difference, Don Jaime keeps his master-to-student relationship with Dona Adela on a formal basis, but suffers from the longing she inspires in him. When she has him introduce her to an important nobleman who is another of his students, Don Jaime loses even the formal contact he has with her, for she is now concerned only with the attentions of the other man. The first of several murders becomes a catalyst to introduce Don Jaime to a vicious plot and puts him in danger himself. And from this point the action and explanations speed to an ending that might be described as quite satisfactory for the book, if not personally satisfying for Don Jaime.

I met Perez-Reverte at a signing recently. When pressed he very reluctantly indicated that perhaps he liked THE FLANDERS PANEL as the best of his six novels published to date. My personal favorite is THE SEVILLE COMMUNION, but I can understand his reluctance to choose. I'd score each of his novels as 99-and-a-fraction out of 100, and the fact that one novel might be, say, 99.62 and another 99.73 is not significant. He's the best of his kind.

Reviewed by Eugene Aubrey Stratton, June 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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