Review: The Queen of the South, Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Bringing literary pedigree to crime fiction

Every now and again an author who is deemed 'literary' makes a foray into crime fiction. I guess the results are often mixed - though I loved the City of Glass series by Paul Auster, a detective story of identities, so to speak, I still don't quite know what to make of it. Queen of the South on the other hand is emotionally engaging and will stay with you a very long time because of that. That is, if you have the patience and allow Pérez-Reverte to work his magic.

‘The telephone rang, and she knew she was going to die. She knew it with such certainty that she froze, the razor motionless, her hair stuck to her face by the steam from the hot water condensed on the tile walls. R-r-ring–r-r-ring. She stood very still, holding her breath as though immobility or silence might change the course of what had already happened.’

If only half the world’s books could open as snappily as that.

This is the epic story of Teresa Mendoza, a tinselly Mexican girl who falls in love with Güero Dávila a drug smuggling pilot. She is not so pretty, but not so ugly either, young and naïve, submissive and doting – just like a narco’s morra should be. When her man is caught playing both sides and killed, Teresa knows that her life is next. Friendless and terrified, Teresa flees, ending up in the Spanish city Melilla. There, it’s not long before she meets the enigmatic, Santiago Fisterra, who trafficks hashish across the Straight of Gibraltar, and so the legend of the Queen of the South is born.

In the spirit of The Count of Monte Cristo, Pérez-Reverte has crafted a novel that keeps your eyes stuck to the page, the way flies stick to flypaper. Skilfully manipulating the ebb and flow of the novel’s tension, Pérez-Reverte explores Teresa’s story against a glamorous Mediterranean backdrop. The narrative moves between his heroine, and that of her unnamed and unauthorized biographer, playing with the reader’s perspective in ways that masterfully tighten the plot. His descriptions of places and people are flawless, his ability to put you in a particular situation unmatched.

This is an impeccably well-researched novel, a fact that shines through every paragraph. Imbued with class, and simmering with cool sensuality, I believe this novel will take Arturo Pérez-Reverte to new heights in his already successful career. Ten out of ten.

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