Set in the Madrid of 1868, it introduces us to the title character, Don Jaime--fencing master and a gentleman who still holds to the code of honor. This makes him an anachronism--even in 1868. Because the Madrid of this time period is full of political intrigue and there are men (and women) willing commit all sorts of of dishonorable deeds to bring down members of rival political parties. (Does this sound at all familiar?...the more things change, the more they stay the same. But I digress.) Don Jaime is busy trying to fulfill his life's ambition--to develop the perfect, unstoppable thrust. With this fencing move, he will be able to put the final touches on the fencing manual which he has been writing.
Although Don Jaime is often regarded as old-fashioned, he is still acknowledged as one of the best fencing masters, particularly of the old-style. He is approached one day by Senora Adela de Otero who asks him to take her on as a student and to teach her his secret thrust (a separate move from the "unstoppable thrust"). At first he refuses, saying that he has never taught a woman, but soon finds that her skill both as a fencer and as a negotiator are more than he bargained for. This proves true for the remainder of the book as Don Jaime is pulled deeper and deeper into the political intrigues that he has studiously ignored for so long.
This historical detail of this novel is amazing. I was completely transported to Madrid. And absolutely believed that I was seeing it as it was in the mid-1800s. Pérez-Reverte's descriptive powers are wonderful. He also has quite a way with his characters--especially Don Jaime. I admired the fencing master's sense of honor....and felt very deeply the betrayal that envelopes him at the end. If Don Jaime has a fault, it his innocent belief in what people tell him. It was very sad to see him disillusioned. The mystery/suspense portion of the novel was decent...although I didn't feel that Pérez-Reverte built up the suspense quite as well as he manages his descriptions. Overall, this is a very enjoyable novel and I look forward to reading The Club Dumas which is waiting on my TBR pile. Four stars out of five.