It's the middle of the night when your contact phones. He has selected a particularly out of the way, perhaps a little too out of the way, site. Carefully you prepare yourself to sneak out to your clandestine meeting, ensuring you have to hand the resources supplied by your client. Twice you suspect someone has tailed you to the rendezvous, but you know that can't be possible. Who could be on to you? Only your client and the contact know about this so unless one of them are playing a double game, there shouldn't be anyone there. You're jumping at shadows you tell yourself.
He's exactly where he says he would be, a small shop on the Left Bank in Paris specializing in the kind of antiquities for which people like your client would pay a fortune. For 15 badly hand-written pages of foolscap that has seen better days, you hand over the agreed amount and scurry off into the night with the papers secreted in the depths of your bag. The adrenaline is only now starting to dissipate as you have yet again negotiated the paths needed to walk through the mysteries of the antiquarian book world. You won't breathe easily until you've handed the pages of manuscript to your client, but the worst is over now. The buy has been successfully negotiated.
If you've never thought of the world of antiquarian books as being something that could inspire passion, betrayal, and even murder, The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte will open the casket lid on a hither-to unknown world of skullduggery, academia, bibliophiles, and mystery. You will be drawn into a world full of arcane knowledge relating to authorship, bindings, publications, engravings, and forgery that is the backdrop for one of the finest literary mysteries ever written.
The story revolves around Lucas Corso, a book detective for hire. His clients, the rich, famous and infamous, hire him to track down rare titles, investigate a manuscript's provenance, or to act as the intermediary in a sale. His only loyalties are to the books and the money he is paid by his client to procure them. Like all good mercenaries he could one day be working for you, aiding your efforts to buy a rare second printing with a misspelling, and the next you'll find he has been there an hour before you securing the rights to first refusal for an estate sale of books.
As the title suggests, The Club Dumas focuses upon a particular work of Alexandra Dumas, most famous for his novels concerning the adventures of the Musketeers, Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d'Artagnan. But it's not merely a rare edition of The Three Musketeers that is the focus of Corso's attentions. No, he's been asked to verify the authenticity of 14 pages of handwritten manuscript purporting to be part of the original serialization by Dumas.
Like so many of his contemporaries, Doyle, Dickens, and others, Dumas wrote in weekly installments for newspapers and an adoring public. As we follow Corso around from Spain, to Portugal, and to France, we not only learn a little bit more about the manuscript and Dumas himself, but the nature of the man who is carrying it. Is he as cynical and manipulative as our narrator would have us believe (the narrator is a character in the book who crosses over the literary "fourth wall" periodically to play a featured role), caring only for the pieces of silver he receives at the end of the day? Or does his encyclopedic knowledge of books and their intricacies come from some place deeper inside of him?