The Dumas Club is a literary detective story with a large dollop of Gothic horror dumped in. A Madrid-based second-hand book dealer, Corsa, is asked to authenticate a handwritten manuscript containing an original chapter of The Three Muskateers by Alexander Dumas.
At the same time he is tasked with authenticating The Book of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows, an occult text whose author is said to have collaborated with the devil and who was burnt at the stake in the 17th century.
The two tales intertwine and times even seem to be connected and Perez Reverte displays impressive insights into the life and works of Dumas and the occult.
A series of illustrations give this novel an interactive element that allows the reader to undertake the role of detective and there is a certain satisfaction in spotting clues.
The novel was reworked by director Roman Polanski for the movie The Ninth Gate, starring Johnny Depp, which did away with the Dumas plotline and played up the satanic elements, although it was not a bad film.
Spanish novelist Arturo Pérez Reverte is a former war correspondent and he draws on this part of his career for the novel The Painter of Battles.
A former war photographer, Andres Faulques, lives in a cliff top building on whose inside walls he is painting a huge sprawling anti-war picture. He draws on scenes that he has witnessed and historic battles.
However, a Croatian war veteran turns up and threatens to kill him because a picture that he took of him during the Balkans conflict ultimately led to his wife and young son being singled out and killed by Serbs.
The novel flashed back to Faulques’s life as a war photographer in war zones throughout the world and his haunted memories of the death of his lover who died in the Balkans.
Intertwined are a series of set-pieces meditations and dialogue with his would-be killer on art and war.
Again Perez-Reverte draws on an eclectic range of references but avoids sounding too smug.
The Painter of Battles is in no way as pacy as The Dumas Club and is more a novel of ideas than of events.