An intricate and very bookish mystery novel—set, in fact, in the rarefied world of book collecting and dealing—from the sophisticated Spanish author of The Flanders Panel
(1994, not reviewed). The story begins with the hiring of professional "book- hunter" Lucas Corso by Boris Balkan, a translator and collector who seeks authentication of a handwritten manuscript chapter of Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers that has fortuitously, as they say, come into his possession. Traveling back and forth between Paris and Madrid, Corso matches wits with Liana Taillefer, whose husband's suicide was somehow connected with his ownership of the Delomelanicon, an illustrated medieval volume said to contain secret instructions for summoning the devil, and of which only two other copies are known to exist. Corso is soon involved in a byzantine international intrigue carried on by those who want, or have information about, the Dumas chapter and the infernal Delomelanicon, including: urbane and ruthless bookseller Varo Borja; an aged German baroness; a threatening man with a facial scar whom his quarry Corso bemusedly nicknames "Rochefort" (after Dumas); and a preternaturally self-possessed teenaged girl who says she's Irene Adler (this being the name of Sherlock Holmes's most infamous mystery woman). Perez-Reverte plaits all these teasing strands together with imperturbable skill, leaving the reader wondering until almost the final pages about the significance of his seductive title, and the allegation that Alexandre Dumas's narrative genius was the result of his pact with Satan. A lot happens in this novel, despite its constant recourse to prearranged meetings and extended conversations, and its enormity of detail about the nuts and bolts of book manufacture, publishing, searching, and dealing. Bibliophiles will love this witty and clever fabrication, though its very specialized content may place it just outside the range of the general reader.
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