The perilous arc of a powerful woman druglord’s career, painstakingly traced by the Spanish author of such brainteasing thrillers as The Club Dumas (1998) and The Seville Communion (1999).
Pérez-Reverte’s sixth is a dual narrative in which we observe Mexicana Teresa Mendoza’s rise to power after the death of her drug-running pilot boyfriend Güero Davila, and also receive summaries of her progress from an unnamed journalist who’s interviewing both her former criminal contacts and law enforcement officers who spent 12 years pursuing her. It all moves much too slowly, because Pérez-Reverte’s obviously thorough researches betray him into an almost encyclopedic disclosure of exactly how the international drug trade operates—and because Teresa’s successive accomplices and lovers are thinly sketched, scarcely characterized at all. This is unfortunate, since there’s considerable dramatic potential in such vividly conceived figures as courtly “narco” godfather Epifanio Vargas, freelance drug-runner Santiago Fisterra (who supplants the late Güero in Teresa’s bed), Teresa’s bisexual prison cellmate and later partner Patricia O’Farrell, and criminous attorney (and Teresa’s next lover) Teo Aljarafe. “La Mexicana” (a.k.a. The Queen of the South) herself is fairly opaque, her strength and resolve asserted rather than dramatized. And Pérez-Reverte skirts absurdity by charting her development into a passionate reader, beginning with her jail-time immersion in The Count of Monte Cristo (“Edmond Dantes is me”). The action, fairly generic, moves from Mexico to Spain’s southern coast, the Strait of Gibraltar, and Morocco, peaking in a dangerous episode in the Black Sea. Still, Pérez-Reverte comes through with a smashing climax in which Teresa learns the truth about Güero, faces down the elusive Don Epifanio, and puts her own spin on her deal with USDEA officials (“Cooperation in exchange for immunity”). Too little, too late.
Pérez-Reverte at his best is a matchless entertainer. But this, his weakest novel, is a major disappointment.