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    Review of THE FENCING MASTER by Arturo Perez-Reverte

    Harcourt, Inc., 1988 (English translation, 1998)

    Revolution is in the air in Spain in 1868. Aging fencing instructor Don Jaime Astarloa stays away from politics, trying to maintain a classical elegance and distance from the mundane even as his old-school ways are being passed by the times. Fewer and fewer of the Spanish nobility continue to study fencing--and of those who do, increasingly they think of it as a sport rather than a matter of honor and ritual. Don Jaime has one student, former government minister Marquis Luis de Ayala, who seems to approach fencing with the right attitude, and that seems nearly enough. But when a beautiful woman walks into his salon and demands to be taught his unique attack, Don Jaime learns he must balance between tradition and his art. Because the woman, Senora Adela de Otero, loves fencing as much as he does.

    Spain continues to totter toward revolution and ancient debts begin to be called. When one of his students is murdered, and another becomes a suspect, Don Jaime tries to determine how much of the truth he can tell with honor, and maintaining honor appears to be something that just might be beyond his reach.

    Author Arturo Perez-Reverte combines a view of a dying art, a fascinating historical period, action, and a murder mystery in an excellent and almost poetical novel. The world's changes sweep over Don Jaime's concepts of honor, but he continues to think of the world in terms of his fencing--and always remains on the lookout for the error, the feint, and the chance to parry and ripost.

    You don't have to be a fencing fan to enjoy this novel. In fact, I'm happy to recommend it to anyone who wants to step back from the world for a couple of hours and think about things in a new way.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 9/25/05

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