Monday, August 13, 2012

Captain Alatriste

I have a double Very Short book review for you all.  Of late, I have been reading fiction books.  This is not my norm.  My normal reading is non fiction, as a rule of thumb, fiction bores me to tears and then some. There is a reason I am reading fiction now, but not relevant to this books review.

Captain Alatriste
First book is Captain Alatriste by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.  Señor Pérez-Reverte is Spanish, a war correspondent turned historical fiction writer.  He writes in Spanish and the version I read was translated by Margaret Sayers Peden.  The book is set in the 1620s, in Spain of course, and the story is told in first person by a young boy who is the servant, or page, to one Captain Alatriste.  In short, the book is a swashbuckler.  There is a lot of sword play in the style of the Three Musketeers.  The story is historically sound with no foo foo content and has a damn intriguing context which is the visit to Madrid by a young Prince Charles and the Duke of Buckingham.

There is a good dose of the Machiavellian politics of seventeenth century Spain; our hero must overcome a corrupt Church official, assassins, and his own stubborn nature and tendency to do good at inopportune moments to survive.  The story device of having the young boy narrate the tale works very well.  The story is easy to follow and exciting and as the boy participates in the story, the reader is also drawn into the lad's life.  I think the author's long service as a war correspondence adds much to his work.  His descriptions of combat, fear, the way the world really works, all ring true.  Pérez-Reverte has been in several war zone, seen and done much, has smelled cordite, seen fear, heard explosions, seen death, etc., he uses this to great advantage in constructing his tale.

The book is part of a series of books about Captain Alatriste.  The series is extremely popular world wide.  There series has already spawned one film, Alatriste, starring Viggo Mortensen, circa 2007.  I believe the film is in Spanish, so do not think it has circulated much here.

Summary:  Captain Alatriste is a very good read and is highly recommended.

Book Two:  Telegraph Days by Larry McMurtry.
I was very prepared to enjoy this book.  Larry McMurtry wrote Lonsome Dove, made into a mini-series for American television, which I enjoyed, and therefore, had an interest in reading another one of his works.  However, this book was a stinker.  There are a couple of historical inaccuracies in the book, which as a historian, sort of bugs the juice out of me, but I could have lived with them if the story had been better.

The story starts in the mid 1870s, a brother and sister, living in what is now the panhandle of Oklahoma. Their father commits suicide and the siblings go to the small town of Rita Blanca not far from their homestead.  The first few chapters are in fact and satisfyingly good western, however, about one fourth through the book McMurtry must have gotten very bored with the story.  It descends into some sort of feminist sexual odyssey that was not only boring, but slightly disgusting.  More like a trip to the barn yard to watch animals.  The last half of the book was damn hard to read.  I wanted to see McMurtry's style of writing, so I soldiered through the entire boring episode.  He owns me several pints I think.  I know McMurty is a master storyteller, and good writer with an easy to read style.  There is a nice flow to his woodcraft..... How-so-ever...  this book was not good in this man's opinion.  The last part of it I found comical at best. 

Summary: Telegraph Days is not recommended.  McMurtry is a very good writer; I read his Duane's Depressed, last year, it was good (if depressing).  All of McMurtry's works I have read, read very well, it was I just happened to not like Telegraph Days.


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