I’ve been slumping lately due to stress at work and have mostly been hewing to light fiction (see Daisy Darker). I didn’t expect to connect with Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s literary crime novel when cycling through what I wanted to read next but the writing hooked me from page one and away we went.
This is an interesting book. It’s good, very good. I’m not sure it’s great but I don’t want to dwell on that. I’ll focus on what I liked: it’s absolutely a retelling in some respects of The Count of Monte Cristo, but I also feel like it’s close to Scarface too. Not tonally (thank God) but similarly to that kind of person rising from a bad background to find purpose, and one true purpose.
It certainly helps that Teresa is a more interesting character than Tony Montana. The strength of the book is Pérez-Reverte diving deep into her inner monologue, her rumination on her life that has led her to become this major drug transporter in Spain and her business-or-else attitude to survive it all. Being a literary crime novel, the writer never reverts to stereotype so everyone from the Russian mobster to the Sinaloan drug baron to the money laundering lawyer gets the full, complete human treatment. It made all the stakes feel real and elevated this from what would have otherwise been a semi-entertaining, pulpy read.
The downside here is two-fold: The journalist angle of the man chasing Teresa is interesting though I’m not sure it works. It basically functions as the writer’s inner monologue for how he views his creation. I’ve said before that the best books are the ones that trust the reader to discern what’s being spelled out. It’s not bad from a reading perspective but I don’t think the book needed it.
Also, while I learned a lot about who Teresa was, what she became, and what she thought about it all, there’s still too much of an emotional distance from her. I’m kinda rooting for her but I don’t know why then I’m not sure I want to, and on and on until the book’s (unsatisfying) conclusion.
Still, it’s very good. One of the best things I’ve read all year. If you’ve seen previews for the USA television show, it’s probably not much like that, though I think Alice Braga is perfectly cast (again, going off previews here). But it’s worth a shot if you like rich writing and/or literary crime stories.