This superbly entertaining and intricate thriller, following close on the heels of its predecessors, The Flanders Panel (1994, not reviewed) and The Dumas Club (1997), confirms its Spanish author’s growing reputation as the thinking man’s Robert Ludlum.
When Vatican security is breached by an unknown hacker who breaks into the Pope’s personal computer, all-purpose emissary (and fräre semblable, if you will, to James Bond) Father Lorenzo Quart is sent to Seville to investigate two mysterious deaths, learn the meaning of cryptic messages that importune the Pontiff to rescue a dilapidated church, Our Lady of the Tears—and also to deduce the identity of the high-tech interloper papal subordinates have dubbed “Vespers.” Perez-Reverte smoothly works into his unfailingly absorbing narrative a colorful parade of power-brokers and schemers, ecclesiastical and secular alike. Among them: Cardinal Iwaszkiewicz, the Pope’s truculent countryman, who mourns the bygone Inquisition; bank executive Pencho Gavira, who has lost his beautiful wife Macarena to a young bullfighter and fights to keep control of a “development coup” that requires Our Lady to be demolished; an amusing criminal trio (who might have stepped out of the pages of Oliver Twist) comprising “former fake lawyer” Don Ibrahim, passe flamenco singer La Nina, and unfrocked boxer El Potro; and—best of all—Our Lady’s Father Priamo Ferro, “an insubordinate astronomer priest” whose stargazing avocation coexists uneasily with his stubborn refusal to hold onto his imperiled church. Father Lorenzo keeps encountering suspicious people, any of whom might be Vespers, as the body count rises and as ingeniously juxtaposed plots and counterplots twist toward a climax that puts Quart at the amorous mercy of the seductive Macarena and sees Father Ferro arrested for a murder to which he has perhaps falsely confessed. The identity of Vespers, and a stunning disclosure about Father Ferro saved for the very last sentence, bring this literate whodunit to a deliciously satisfying conclusion.
Reading Perez-Reverte is one of the most choice pleasures contemporary fiction offers.