The Siege by Arturo Pérez-Reverte – Book Review

The Siege by Arturo Pérez-Reverte – Book Cover

You might have stumbled upon a few nasty mistakes by Pérez-Reverte before? Like “Good People”? Which, check it out, cunningly mistranslated, is actually “Boring People” in the original title. No worries, though. You always give the author another chance because of “The Fencing Master” (Or the woman’s shadow on the man’s heart), which is a bit like a neo-western, only with rapiers instead of firearms – and more sophistication.

1811. 99.9999 percent of Spain has been occupied by Napoleon’s troops, but Cádiz flips the bird to the emperor with infinite calm, peacefully nestled behind its high stone walls, happily trading through its port. The siege of Cádiz spans about another year and a half, and you follow it through the eyes of three main characters and the kaleidoscope of supporting characters swirling around them.

Inspector Tizón chases a serial killer, on which not only his job but also his own faith depends. And although the inspector is a foul jerk, who mostly gives his investigations a final shape with a bludgeon, he now has to rise above himself. The enjoyment value of the investigation is diminished by the fact that it unfolds first on a philosophical and then on a metaphysical level, until finally, it painstakingly finds its way. But the excitement of the obsessed pursuit is enough to make the incredibly unsympathetic inspector somewhat acceptable.

The other two characters, in return, are much more likable: Pepe Lobo hunts hostile ships with a privateer’s license. In his case, Pérez-Reverte’s book turns into a trace of an adventure novel, but if you have any romantic ideas about this profession, you sober up quickly at the sight of the everyday life of piracy: it sucks, plain and simple.

Lobo’s employer, Lolita Palma, who from a 19th-century perspective is slowly aging into an old maid, reluctantly takes over her father’s trading company. The evolving relationship between these two characters, socially distinct from each other and initially rooted in mutual antipathy is the greatest virtue of the book titled “The Siege.” Lolita has been my favorite from the start; I sometimes found myself flipping ahead to see when her chapter would come. (Just like in the good old days reading Game of Thrones with Arya). I have to admit, from the moment these two characters met, I found the story irresistibly exciting.

And although the book is much more a historical novel than a crime or romance novel, the siege itself mostly consists of the opposing sides shooting cannons at each other with not much efficiency. The essence lies much more in the everyday life. However, the description of these everyday lives is E-N-D-L-E-S-S-L-Y meticulous. I can easily imagine that during the “handicraft workshop” afternoon meeting, when the colonial rebellions’ commercial and political aspects are deeply explored, the dear reader suddenly goes wild and bites off a considerable chunk of Pérez-Reverte’s hefty work. Additionally, some supporting characters are entirely unnecessary; they don’t contribute anything essential to the story, like the salt miner, but the difficulties of the French artillery’s shooting range seem to be somewhat overrepresented. But seriously!

And during the last hundred pages of “The Siege”, perhaps because as you approach the endgame, you increasingly sense a foreboding, you feel that less would have been more.


The Siege by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
624 pages, Hardcover
Published in 2014 by Random House

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