A Wartime Murder Mystery: Pérez-Reverte's The Siege

4:00 PM

To be honest, I read little fiction. What I do read and like, I am inclined to repeat. John Grisham novels were once regular companions on a flight out or a flight home, the perfect length to tide me through the journey. As a seminarian, Fr. Brent Kruger, C.S.C. introduced me to Spaniard Arturo Pérez-Reverte's The Seville Communion. It was great, followed by The Nautical Chart, the Captain Alatriste series, The Fencing Master, The Flanders Panel, and other works. With excursions to Spain (like the Camino de Santiago), I have enjoyed learning more of that land and its history.

A visit to the Salina Public Library occasioned an encounter with The Siege, published in Spanish as El Asedio in 2010, and translated into English in 2014. Set in the siege of Cádiz (1810-1812), the Spaniards encountered war with Napoleonic France as well as troubles with the independence movements in the American Colonies. The book was an occasion to deepen what I learned a few years back: how from Mexico to Chile, Spain faced unrest from simultaneous independence movements, as I saw that independence was occasioned by the turbulence within Spain itself.

The Siege recounts a series of brutal murders synchronized with military events. Pérez-Reverte takes us across Cádiz from the homes of the wealthy to the darkest alleys of that port city. In an epic 598 pages with detailed descriptions of Cádiz's neighborhoods, Pérez-Reverte acquaints us with Spaniard and French, alongside a few English officials, the loved and the loathed. Like Captain Alatriste and other characters in Pérez-Reverte novels, police investigator Rogelio Tizón is a hardened figure. As the tale unfurls, characters, for whom we have grown in affection, are borne toward tragedy. I found myself crossing off the name of one suspect after another, while abiding the fear of an unfortunate end for beloved characters. In the end, Pérez-Reverte draws it all together in a fine way.

The Siege is a fine book, but, if you are unfamiliar with Pérez-Reverte, I would start with something from the Alatriste series. Perhaps you will be hooked on his writing, as I have been.
Arturo Pérez-Reverte (Wikimedia)
Pérez-Reverte, an international war correspondent for 21 years, attends to many details of history, attire and warfare, on land and at sea. The award-winning translator, Frank Wynne, notes his need to consult not only dictionaries but also experts to martial the appropriate terms for Pérez-Reverte's technical prose.

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