The Club Dumas (1993)

by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

The term literary mystery is generally applied to a mystery story that rises above the genre with more eloquent writing and intellectual depth. Spanish author Arturo Pérez-Reverte's The Club Dumas deserves the label because it has intellectual qualities in spades, but there’s another reason it’s a literary mystery: its subject matter.

The hero, Lucas Corso, is a rare-book mercenary: He scouts for rare books for wealthy collectors. The plot starts rolling with a mysterious death: the suicide of the owner of a handwritten chapter of The Three Musketeers. A Madrid friend, an antiquarian book dealer, wants Corso to find out whether the chapter is Alexander Dumas’s original. Another client wants Corso to determine which of the three known copies of the 17-century The Nine Doors to the Kingdom of Shadows, an occult book about summoning the devil, is the original one. As Corso goes from Madrid to Sintra, Portugal, to Paris, he encounters book collectors and devil worshippers (sometimes they’re the same); the beautiful, hostile widow of the suicide; characters that seem to be reenacting Dumas’s novel; and a mystery girl who calls herself Irene Adler (a la Sherlock Holmes) and says she’s his protector.

The puzzle Corso hopes to unravel is complex and involves woodcut illustrations, charts, and especially literary allusions, including to Dumas’s work (it helps to be familiar with his writing). Dangers mount; the owners of the two other Nine Doors are murdered. Corso is followed and assaulted by a man he thinks of as Dumas’s Cardinal Richelieu. Corso is convinced that his two quests are related, and it’s not until he ends up at a secret meeting of “the Club Dumas” that the many strains of the plot are separated out.

The Club Dumas isn’t for those who want their mystery novels to be quick reads. But anyone who enjoys plots within plots will relish The Club Dumas.


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