Modern Gothic Mystery Novel

The Club Dumas
Perez-Reverte, Arturo

After watching the The Ninth Gate starring Johnny Depp, I just had to read the book that inspired such a unique, haunting movie!

This eerie, Gothic mystery starts with a suicide, and only gets deadlier from there.  Lucas Corso is the man book collectors and dealers call when they want to get their hands on something rare or hard to come by.  He’s a Book Bandit of sorts – one who lives out of a canvas bag, and could disappear at any time like a “snail into its shell.”  His character is deep and dynamic, and what I love about him the most is that he isn’t exactly a good guy.  Corso will do anything it takes to find an ancient work of art for a well paying client, even if it means bending the rules or breaking the law.

“I don’t like presents,” muttered Corso sullenly. “Some guys once accepted a wooden horse. Handcrafted by the Achaeans, it said on the label. The fools.”

Already on a mission to authenticate a long lost manuscript thought to be written by Alexandre Dumas, Corso gets another job that just might cost him his life, and definitely costs him his sanity.

Varo Borja, Spain’s leading book dealer has acquired an extremely rare and dangerous book called:  Book of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows, rumored to be a manual for summoning Satan himself.  Only three copies are known to exist, and Borja offers Corso a considerable amount of money to pry them from their owner’s collections by any means possible.

That’s when reality starts to bend, and Corso’s life starts turning into his own modern version of The Three Musketeers.  As strange as it sounds, it happens slowly and believably.  The world around him becomes haunting and sinister.  Character’s from the classic book come to life and Corso is stalked by a man with a scar on his face, nearly run down and forced into a dream world that reminds me of an adult version of the Neverending Story:

“Corso swore gently under his breath. He’d have given a rare incunabulum, in good condition, to punch the face of whoever was writing this ridiculous script.”

And yet he continues on his journey through it all, traveling to unlock the mysteries of the Nine Doors and its connection with the long lost Dumas manuscript.  The two plots intertwine in a dark, beautifully written Gothic setting full of churches, old mansions and ancient cities.

“He was looking out the window at the streets and seemed to be searching in the night, in the silent flow of car lights reflected in his glasses, for the lost word, the key to uniting all these different stories that floated like dead leaves on the dark waters of time.”

In the midst of all the confusion and chaos, Corso meets a short haired girl with pale green eyes full of light, and a soul that seems much older than she looks.  She’s Corso’s very own protector, a girl who claims she’s fought with an Angel and lost.  A poor, pretty traveler who loves to read and sympathizes with those who’ve lost Heaven.  And yet the shadow of a cross spilling over the floor seems to stop just short of her feet.

“After all, the girl was his only real lead in this unreal, novelistic, ridiculous situation.”

Together they drift through the madness, unlocking secrets hiding in the other copies of the Nine Doors.  They share a strange and intimate moment in a hotel room and meet all sorts of interesting people along the way, each of them having a vivid, memorable presence and a story to tell of their own.  The further the girl and Corso travel in to the darkness surrounding the only prints left of the dark occult pages, their adventure becomes more dangerous and uncertain as book collectors start meeting their brutal demise:

“If only he knew whether the end of the story was already written, or whether he himself was writing it as he went along, chapter by chapter.”

After being held at gunpoint, the Dumas mystery unfolds first, reading like an opened packet from Clue or an episode of Scooby Doo.  The Club Dumas is revealed, but none of it explains how the Nine Doors fits in.

That’s when the story comes full circle, taking Corso back to Varo Borja, who’s too busy summoning The Devil in his huge medieval building to bother paying Corso for all of his life changing troubles.

This book was a bit above me at times with references to Latin, old forgotten novels and things I’d never heard of.  But that’s exactly why I read – to learn and see brilliant worlds through a vivid writer’s imagination.  This novel flows like a beautiful Gothic poem full of religious imagery, a touch of romance and age old themes of Heaven and Hell.  If you’re a fan of old-school fiction, enjoy novels by Anne Rice or movies like The Devil’s Advocate, I highly recommend this book…within a book…within a book.

“That’s what was so tricky— accepting the nature of the game. Accepting the fiction by entering the story and following the logic of the text, not of the outside world . .  . After that, it’s easy. In the real world, many things happen by chance, but in fiction nearly everything is logical.”

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