Author: Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Translator: Sonia Soto
Publishing Date: 2003
Number of Pages: 340 pages
Genre: Mystery, Adventure fiction
Murderous goings-on in a tiny baroque church draw the Vatican into the dark heart of Seville.
A hacker gets into the Pope’s personal computer to leave a warning about mysterious deaths in a small church in Seville that is threatened with demolition. Father Quart, a suave Vatican trouble-shooter, is sent to investigate. Experience has taught him to deal with enemies of the Church in all their guises, but nothing has prepared him for the stubborn faith of Father Ferro, or the appeal of the lovely Macarena Bruner, desperate to save the church of her ancestors from her ex-husband, the ruthless banker Pencho Gavira. As Quart is drawn into an intrigue as labyrinthine as the streets of Seville, soon more than his vocation is in danger.
Of Heritage and Mysteries
The Catholic Church is one of the longest surviving institution in today’s world. It is, undoubtedly, also one of the most powerful and most influential. For thousand of years, it has survived some of the most controversial scandals, from the Crusades to the Inhibition to the sexual abuses. What secrets does it keep? What kept it rolling with the years?
To a simple spectator, Vatican City is virtually impenetrable. Its tightly knit security details secure not just the Vatican’s secrets but also its annuls. Its structure is so intimidating that no one dares to take a risk. That is until one fine day, a hacker named “Vespers” confidently found his way through Vatican’s labyrinthine system. Who is this audacious Vespers who foolhardily tries to invade the heart of the Vatican, undauntedly leaving a cryptic message in the Pope’s personal server?
This disquieting episode in the highly guarded confines of Vatican set heads rolling. The best of Vatican’s security officers converged to put solve this seemingly unbreakable riddle. Traces of the hacker led to an unlikely setting, Spain’s Seville, in an inundated church that is slowly crumbling to the ground. Vatican jets off Father Lorenzo Quart, a career troubleshooter, to Seville to get to the bottom of this hacking incident. What he finds – a series of accidental deaths, an adamant priest, a bunch of alluring women, and a socio-political plot – confounds him. Will he get to the bottom of this?
In a scintillating tale, perhaps comparable to Dan Brown, Arturo Pérez-Reverte walks the reader down the narrow and dark alleys of the world of clerics. He pulls in the readers into a web of mystery, murders, deceit and betrayal. The centrifugal point in the story – a derelict Baroque church that once saw better days but is slowly crumbling to the ground. As two sides clash, which side will weigh more. But first, Father Quart must unmask who Vesper is.
Arturo Pérez-Reverte also underlined the swift transition in the information highway as a result of headways made in technology. He subtly underscored the impact and the role that technology plays in all aspects of our lives. However, there was an artifice in the involvement of the hacker. Cognizant that the novel was written in the mid-1990s, when technology is not in the state that it is in today, the infusion of hacking was a bit unconvincing. To his credit, Pérez-Reverte used the same platform to create a pleasantly surprising culmination to the story. A digression from the rest of the story, the ending underlined the ageless and limitless pursuit for knowledge.
Seville’s history, its passionate residents and its vibrant lifestyle provided the story a wonderful backdrop. The harmonious coexistence of the modernist younger generation and the traditionalist older generation gave the story a distinct texture. Pérez-Reverte ingeniously made Seville an unnamed character whose texture is hemmed in into the narrative. The collaboration between the setting and the story is a thing of beauty.
Beyond the mystery and the murders, Pérez-Reverte raises the question: in a struggle to preserve the history, we are locked up in a quandary – which to preserve and which to raze to the ground. The case in point is The Church of Our Lady of the Tears. It is more than just a building as it hallowed walls and dark chambers laid witness to back stories invisible to the naked eye. It played a pivotal role in the romance of Captain Xaloc and Carlotta Bruner, Seville’s Romeo and Juliet. The same holds true for every structure that has lasted through the elements of time.
Gris Marsala poetically summarized the pursuit to preserve historical structures:
“I’m convinced that every ancient building, picture, or book that’s lost or destroyed leaves us bereft. Impoverished.”
The Seville Communion fully displayed Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s mastery of the language. It is filled with romantic and colorful lines. Descriptions were vividly and artfully crafted. There was a diaphanous flow of words and sentences that are music to the soul. He complimented his wonderful word play by filling the novel with dynamic characters who gave the story a different flavor. The Church, for instance, is comprised of varying personalities with different views and perspectives. Pérez-Reverte made the readers connect with the plights of the characters. The pains of marriage, radical idealisms, and even simple romance humanized the characters.
To those who are expecting a for fast-paced and page-turning mystery, you might find the novel a little bland. Whereas the language was captivating, the execution of The Seville Communion, unfortunately, fell short. Unlike Dan Brown’s quicker paced works, this novel is more straightforward. Rather than being provocative and relentless, the novel steps on the pedal and deals more with heritage preservation. Nevertheless, there were moments of brilliance.
On a more positive note, the novel does have an interesting premise. However, a derelict building, an ageless romance, a bunch of murders, and the Vatican were just too much to consume on one plate. It could have worked but they weren’t lined up properly; an invisible bond was amiss. In the end, it came off a bit mundane, a little subpar. The novel isn’t actually too bad, but neither is it too good. Safely sailing on the middle doesn’t always constitute a brilliant read.
Having read a lot of mystery novels I personally felt that the novel is lackadaisical, overall, even though it has great points here and there. I would still recommend it for fervent readers of the mystery genre. On a positive note, this less than stellar experience will not preclude me from reading one of his masterpieces, The Club Dumas, which I look forward to with fervor. By the way, this is my first Arturo Perez Reverte novel.
About the Author
(Photo by iRedes.es) Arturo Pérez-Reverte Gutiérrez was born on November 25, 2951 in Cartagena, Spain.
Before fully pursuing a career as a writer, Pérez-Reverte first started working as a journalist. He first worked as a writer for the defunct Pueblo and then the state-owned Televisión Española. For 21 years, from 1973 to 1994, Pérez-Reverte worked as a war correspondent. Weary of the internal affairs of the media, he quit the life of a journalist to pursue writing full-time.
His first novel, El Husar, set in the Napoleonic Wars, was published in 1986. He followed it up with his second novel El maestro de esgrima (The Fencing, Master, 1988), La tabla de Flandes (The Flanders Panel, 1990), and, perhaps his most critically successful work, El club Dumas or La sombra de Richelieu (The Club Dumas, 1993). Pérez-Reverte is also renowned for his Captain Alatriste novels.
In 2006, Pérez-Reverte was named as one of the 10 most important writers of the year by the Spanish national newspaper ABC. He is also a member of the Royal Spanish Academy, a position he held since June 12, 2003.