"The Dumas Club" was first published in 1993, and was first translated into English in 1996. "The Ninth Gate", which was directed by Roman Polanski and starred Johnny Depp, was loosely based on the novel.
The story is told by Boris Balkan, a rather well-known in Spain's publishing industry. He's done the occasional translation, edited a few other books, written reviews and ran courses for writers- as such, he's regarded as Spain's most influential literary critic. In fact, when someone needs an opinion on the nineteenth century novel, Balkan is the man to ask. It's this expertise that leads to his meeting with Lucas Corso - who proves to be the story's central character.
Corso is what Balkan describes as a "mercenary of the book world". He works for a very small number of clients - exceptionally rich book dealers who pay very well to avoid getting their hands dirty. He does appear to be very good at his job - patient, an excellent memory, an expert knowledge of the literary world and a conscience that doesn't bother him unduly. He has also mastered a number of rabbit-like expressions, designed to tease more information out of the person he's questioning. However, he can change from a rabbit sharing half a carrot to a mean wolf, off on the hunt, in an instant. (He is also an expert on Napoleon's battles, and has a certain obsession with Waterloo in particular). Corso comes to Balkan with a manuscript he's wants examined - chapter forty-two from "The Three Musketeers", apparently in Dumas' own handwriting. Balkan refers Corso to a graphologist, based in Paris, by the name of Achille Replinger - both a friend and an expert on nineteenth-century French writers.
Corso is hoping to authenticate the manuscript on behalf of a friend called Flavio La Ponte - who had, allegedley, bought the manuscript from a publisher called Enrique Taillefer. Slightly awkwardly, Taillefer had died the previous week in an apparent suicide. (The unfortunate Taillefer had also failed to leave a note). Corso and LaPonte have known each other for many years and have quite a bit in common - Corso, for his part, nearly seems fond of LaPonte. Together, the pair have founded (and remain the only two members of) the Brotherhood of Nantucket Harpooneers - in honour of their shared enthusiasm for "Moby Dick".
Corso is also working on an investigation for Varo Borja - Spain's leading bookdealer and a man who can always afford the asking price. Borja is particularly interested in a book called "The Book of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows", written in the seventeenth century by a man called Astride Torchia. Since the book was regarded as a dummies guide for summoning the Devil, this naturally got Torchia in trouble with the Inquisition. (Everything they could find written by Torchia was burned - a similar fate was endured by the author not long afterwards). While one copy of the Nine Doors did apparently survive, there are now believed to be three copies - one in Borja's collection, another in Portugal and the third in Paris. Borja wants Corso to discover which of the three copies is authentic. Since Corso will be travelling to Paris at Borja's expense anyhow, he decides to look up Replinger while there. In time, Corso comes to believe the two investigations are somehow linked. Furthermore, it appears he is being stalked by flesh-and-blood versions of Rochefort and Milady - two characters who worked for Richlieu in "The Three Musketeers". Naturally, that leaves the implication there's also a real-life Richlieu somewhere calling the shots...
This is a hugely enjoyable book - it's one that just bounces along and it constantly had me smiling. It obviously owes a certain amount to "The Three Musketeers", and I picked up a few things about that Dumas I didn't know before. (Dumas isn't the only one to have an influence - there's a couple of nods in the direction of Umberto Eco and Sherlock Holmes). Absolutely recommended - I'll certainly be reading more by Arturo Perez Reverte.