Prolific master Pérez-Reverte (The Siege, 2014, etc.) returns with a novel of fate, love, and deception that spans four decades as two beautiful misfits struggle to make a real human connection despite the violent politics of the Spanish Civil War and then the Cold War.
Max Costa grows up in the slums of Buenos Aires to become the consummate con man: suave, handsome, and quick-fingered. While working as a ballroom dancer on a luxury ocean liner in 1928, he encounters Mecha, sparking a short but passionate affair. But Mecha is married to a famous Spanish composer with eclectic sexual tastes, and when the composer insists that Max escort the couple into the Argentinian underworld so that he might find gritty inspiration to write a “perfect tango,” the night that follows puts Max on the run. Ten years later, now a successful thief, Max is recruited as a spy by two Italian agents, and while infiltrating a high-society party, he once again runs into Mecha. Passion reignites, but once again Max must leave precipitously. Both these stories unfold in pieces, intercut with a third encounter between Max and Mecha in 1966 as Mecha’s son competes against a Russian for a chance to play in the world chess championship. In typical Pérez-Reverte fashion, the novel’s strength is in its details and its lush descriptions of exotic places and luxurious parties that contrast with political violence. This novel is also driven by the deeply flawed humanity of its two main characters: their desire and their inability to trust anyone, even each other, despite their strong connection. The sense of regret that imbues the 1966 storyline elevates the novel to a meditation on the ravages inflicted on the body and spirit by time and history.
Pérez-Reverte summons the romantic spirit of an old black-and-white movie: impossibly glamorous, undeniably wistful.