Lucas Corso, the protagonist of The Club Dumas has a very unique job. He gets paid by collectors, booksellers, book aficionados, and wealthy eccentrics to track down, and obtain special books; expensive first editions, original manuscripts, ancient texts, rare tomes, etc. Sometimes he’s hired to authenticate a book’s origins, and other times he’s paid to obtain certain rare edition – at any cost. Lucas Corso is a bit of a mercenary. But not just any mercenary – a book mercenary (really, could his job be any better?!).
In The Club Dumas, Lucas Corso has his hands full with two assignments; the first, is to authenticate a chapter of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, written in what seems to be Dumas’ and one other individual’s handwriting. The chapter, “Anjou Wine,” was recently bought by Corso’s friend and client from a wealthy publisher who was recently found dead, possibly a suicide.
Corso’s other assignment involves a rare, controversial novel entitled Book of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows written and published by Aristide Torchia in Venice in 1666, who was burned at the stake shortly after. The mysterious novel is said to hold the key to summoning the devil, Lucifer. After Torchia’s death, all but three copies of The Nine Doors were destroyed. One of the 3 existing copies of The Nine Doors belonged to Corso’s recent employer Varo Borja, a wealthy publisher obsessed with the occult and Lucifer. Believing that his copy is a forgery, Varo Borja tasks Corso to track down the other 2 copies of The Nine Doors and to learn all he can about them, including obtaining them by any means possible.
With a copy of Varo Borja’s The Nine Doors, and Dumas’ The Anjou Wine in his bag, Corso heads first to Portugal, then later to Paris to get his hands on the other two copies of The Nine Doors, and to authenticate the chapter of The Three Musketeers. He notices something strange when he sees the 2nd copy of the The Nine Doors in Portugal, and is eager to determine whether the third book, the one in Paris, can somehow shed more light on the strange mystery.
Unfortunately, while travelling from Spain to Portugal to France, Corso meets some strange characters whose parts in his adventure he is not quite sure about; a mysterious young woman with bright green eyes who calls herself Irene Adler and deems herself his protector; the strange intellectual man with a scar on his face who seems to be trying to kill him at every turn, and the seductive widow of the former owner of The Anjou Wine, who is willing to do anything to get the chapter back. Corso observes throughout the novel that his adventure and the strange people he encounters are eerily similar to the events and characters in The Three Musketeers; the man with the scar bearing a resemblance to D’artagnan’s nemesis Rochefort, and the seductive widow to Milady de Winter (except for Irene Adler of course, who is Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis / love interest).
In the course of his fulfilling his job for Varo Borja and investigating the authenticity of The Anjou Wine, Corso gets mixed up in strange and dangerous situations, the significance of which is lost to him at first. He is convinced that there is some connection between The Nine Doors, The Anjou Wine chapter, the occult, and Alexandre Dumas. In the end, Corso learns the strange truth about the Alexandre Dumas chapter, and the even stranger truth about Varo Borja and The Nine Doors.
A sort of metafiction, The Club Dumas is a detective novel about books, and people who are obsessed with collecting and preserving books. Any book lover, I think, can relate to this aspect of the novel, whether or not they are avid readers and collectors of more recent novels, or hard core book preservationists. I have my own little book collection – a few signed first editions by prize-winning writers, but nothing that can really be called priceless (not yet at least); my collection has got more sentimental value than actual monetary value.
The Club Dumas will also tickle the fancy of fans of Alexandre Dumas, particularly his novel The Three Musketeers. Corso (Perez-Reverte) draws many parallels between himself and D’artagnan, as well as with the different characters of the novel, and some events. The novel also offers tidbits about Alexandre Dumas’ personal life and luxurious lifestyle, as well as controversial issues surrounding his writings, such as the major role of his collaborator Aguste Maquet. The title, The Club Dumas, seems a strange choice at first, but it becomes clear as the book nears the end. I like Alexandre Dumas, though I’ve only read The Count of Monte Cristo, so some of the references from The Three Musketeers were lost on me. However, it could be quite enjoyable for someone who has read, and enjoyed the Dumas novel.
The Club Dumas is also a dark novel about the occult and the devil. It references many novels, both real and made up, that feature Lucifer as the protagonist, and has many esoteric discussions about the nature of evil and the devil. Part adventure, part detective novel, part mystery, with a little bit of sex and humor thrown in, The Club Dumas is not a bad choice to pass the time.
I only discovered this novel recently in one of my book boxes. I don’t remember ever buying it, so I don’t know how long I’ve had it. The cover looked nice and mysterious, and the title told me that it probably had something to do with Alexandre Dumas. Arturo Perez-Reverte’s name sounded a bit familiar, though I have never read any of his novels before (honestly, I like really like the sound of his name). I was about to finish the book I was currently reading, so I thought, what the heck, I might as well read it. After starting the novel, I learned that it was made into a movie in 1999 called The Ninth Gate. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, but I vaguely remember hearing about it, and I think it stars Johnny Depp. I guess Johnny Depp plays Lucas Corso, who, from the book’s description, looks nothing like him. I also learned that The Ninth Gate removed all aspects of the novel pertaining to Alexandre Dumas, including the Anjou Wine story, and the parallelisms with The Three Musketeers. Strange, since that’s the main thrust of the novel – and the title, at that. So by going with the title The Ninth Gate – they probably didn’t think The Nine Doors had the same ring to it, I’m guessing the movie is about the book about the devil and focuses more on the occult and evil side.
Maybe I should just watch the movie…
The Club Dumas (1996) – Arturo Perez-Reverte
Vintage International; 362 pages
Personal rating: 2.5/5