December 04, 2009

The Seville Communion: A Review

“The Seville Communion begins in the Vatican with a hacker code- named “Vespers” breaking into the pope’s personal computer and leaving a cryptic message: “In Spain, in Seville, there is a place where merchants are threatening the house of God and where a small seventeenth century church kills to defend itself…” PĂ©rez-Reverte then introduces his flawed hero, Father Lorenzo Quart, a valuable operative in the Holy Office’s Institute for External Affairs (known as “the dirty works department,” by some members of the Curia). It’s his job to go to Seville, investigate two mysterious deaths at Our Lady of the Tears and discover the identity of Vespers.Once in Seville, Father Quart finds himself collar-deep in intrigue: There is the wealthy banker who wants the land the church stands on and his beautiful, estranged wife who will do anything to thwart him. There is Father Ferro, the fierce parish priest and Sister Gris Marsala, an American nun and architect, both intent on saving Our Lady of the Tears. There are also three endearing villains-for-hire who steal every scene they are in. Perez-Reverte skillfully weaves murder, mystery, and corrupt politics–both sacred and profane–through his story before arriving at his trademark unpredictable ending. ” -Amazon review

That in a nutshell is what the whole novel is about. The plot is smouldering, the descriptions are bathed in the warm Sevillan sun and perfume of orange blossoms. Unfortunately, this had some flaws that will turn-off readers.

1) Arturo Perez-Reverte is exhaustingly enthusiastic in writing the names of each bar, each street, each building, all with long-winded Spanish names in the hope of injecting local color into the scene but ends up alienating readers with its tiresome and hyperspecific names. For instance, instead of saying, “the bald man met him at the corner cafe”, he would instead write, “Don Verbano de la Rama met Querico Ignacio de Viver at a table inside the La Scala de Sevilla Cafe fronting the Nuestra de la Paz Church.” For the first two chapters this seemed quaint but having to read it until the end makes me want to hurl the book at his face.

2) Plotwise it is Agatha-Christiesque predictable but thoroughly unsatisfying. The arguments and mystery elements are weak and definitely not funny. It’s like building the tension of a wonderful mystery only to find out that there’s no mystery at all.

3) The characters are stereotyped and flat. The protagonist seemed clueless as to the mystery even when the book was nearing its end. The villains look as if they were plucked out from a Loony Tunes cartoons and their characterizations are stupidly Sevillan- a flamenco dance, a matador and a Hemingway wannabe from Cuba. Even though they were meticulously described from birth to their last indiscretion, it still falls short from being well-rounded. Hence, it will not make you sympathize with any of them.

4) Perez-Reverte does not let the dialogue describe his characters, but rather he explodes in a hurried exposition describing in excruciating detail all the character’s history just like an overbearing essayist. I really do not care whether the villain’s lighter was given by Hemingway or not.

With such kind of literature, it’s no wonder that I’ve found it stacked inside the National bookstore bargain bin.