Sunday, February 12, 2006

Purity of Blood by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Review of Arturo Pérez-Reverte's Purity of Blood

If the phrase "mission impossible" hadn't already been used elsewhere, it would have made a perfect title for Arturo Pérez-Reverte's second adventure featuring the lethal mercenary with a conscience known as Capt. Diego Alatriste. Instead, the renowned Spanish novelist has chosen "Purity of Blood" for this follow-up tale of intrigue and double-dealing in 17th century Madrid.

The title is an ominous reference to a delicate complication Alatriste must confront as he takes on a clandestine assignment that is doomed. The year is 1623, and the grizzled warrior is considering a return to active duty as a soldier in Flanders, where hostilities with the Dutch are flaring anew. It's also a place where his facility with knife and pistol might give him some needed distance from people in high places who are still annoyed at having been outmaneuvered in a previous encounter.

But as we learned in last year's "Captain Alatriste," the first novel in a five-part series (Pérez-Reverte wrote the series early in his career, but they are only now being translated into English), this is a man whose moral streak occasionally clouds his judgment. Last time around, his intended marks were allowed to escape by virtue of having displayed uncommon courage in the face of death. Now Alatriste is persuaded by a good friend, the notable poet-about-town Francisco de Quevedo, to rescue the daughter of a prominent patron from the clutches of a lascivious priest. The reason her father is unable to rescue her from the convent himself is out of fear that he will be exposed for a heritage that lacks "purity of blood" - in other words, for being of Jewish ancestry. This would be catastrophic for his family's name and fortune.

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