Some time ago I read The Club Dumas by Pérez-Reverte and I LOVED IT! I read it twice, and the first time I finished it in a day and a half. Amazing read, fun, challenging, seductive…. All the things The Flanders Panel turned out not to be.
(Like always – spoiler alert)
And it started so nice. We meet a couple of characters – Julia the restorer; Alvaro, the historian and Julia’s former lover; Caesar, Julia’s best friend since childhood; Munoz a chess player who loses every game on purpose; Manchu, the art dealer… Julia is restoring 500 year old painting and she comes across a hidden inscription in Latin. “who killed the knight” and she sets out to investigate this statement – since one of the characters on the painting (the knight) was actually murdered. Alvaro dies in suspicious circumstances and this gives the team another murder to investigate and they also need to see do the two things connect.
This all happens in the first 50 pages and it is done in a great way. The author doesn’t underestimate the reader, he doesn’t serve everything up to the reader, the reader actually has to make an effort (that is why I mentioned it in my last post as an example of good writing).
But, damn, was I wrong.
After those first 50 pages NOTHING HAPPENS. That is a hiperbole of course, things happen, but the characters do not develop, I honestly even felt like they were regressing! The writing style also went down – he kept writing as if he was still in the introduction phase of the novel. He kept describing the characters, their looks and features. Come on! How many times can you read that someone’s genius is hidden and only appears when he plays chess? How many times can you read that this person always dresses nicely?
One more thing about these descriptions – the random appearance of ears! I know, it confused me too. I’m reading perhaps the third description of Munoz and this time it is focused only on his shabby clothes, and among the trousers, the shirt and the jacket a pair of EARS sticks out. I was so confused by this that I had to read the paragraph again. I was still confused, but I accepted it as a hiccup. But then, surprise, surprise, they appear again some 10-15 pages later. Really? Why? I still don’t have an answer to this.
In addition to this, from time to time, the author offers you insight into the painter’s POV and the POV of the characters in the painting – but these are given at random, without a proper introduction. And the reader is left confused. For example: in the last couple of pages he switches to Beatrice’s POV (woman in the painting) and I honestly thought it was Julia.
Now, in addition to the bad writing style, the author also missed on the whole plot thing. Oh my god. He had so many options with this story – the idea is great. But he simply failed to write a good mystery.
The characters never truly investigate anything, they are never proactive. Things just happen to them and around them. They might as well be characters on that painting – the time affects them, the elements affect them, and they just stand there, just as they were in the beginning.
There is no reaction from the characters to anything that happens. Well, that is a lie – there is some reaction – Julia’s POV when she talks about her fear, but that is so badly written that you wish that too had been skipped. I mean, Julia’s former lover is killed, and then her friend as well, and she has no reaction and neither do the people around her!
And in the end what happens? What must happen in cases where the author failed to incorporate the solving of the mystery in his mystery novel – the bad guy simply sits down with the “hero” and tells them everything that he’s done and the reasons why. So you have a 300 page mystery where nothing is discovered for 280 pages, and the bad guy has a 15 page monologue to present the entire case. USELESS!
So, in the end, I gave this a 2 star, again, simply because I finished it, but other than that… If I had read this book first, and not Club Dumas, I would never want to read anything else by Pérez-Reverte, and that would have been a shame. This way at least I can say that he is not an awful writer – but simply that his first book is a bad one.
But there was a good thing that came out of all of this – my buddy and I are reading together again and that makes me immensely happy 🙂