The Club Dumas

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The Club Dumas
Cover of Random House edition
Author Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Original title El Club Dumas
Translator Sonia Soto
Country Spain
Language Spanish
Genre Crime novel, Mystery novel
Publisher required
Publication date
Published in English
Media type Print (Hardcover)

The Club Dumas (original Spanish title El Club Dumas) is a 1993 novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. The book is set in a world of antiquarian booksellers, echoing his previous work, The Flanders Panel.

The story follows the adventures of a book dealer, Lucas Corso, who is hired to authenticate a rare manuscript by Alexandre Dumas, père. Corso's investigation leads him to seek out two copies of a rare book known as De Umbrarum Regni Novem Portis ("Of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows"). Corso encounters a host of intriguing characters on his journey of investigation, including devil worshippers, obsessed bibliophiles and a hypnotically enticing femme fatale. Corso's travels take him to Madrid (Spain), Sintra (Portugal), Paris (France) and Toledo (Spain).

The Club Dumas is full of details ranging from the working habits of Alexandre Dumas to how one might forge a 17th-century text, as well as insight into demonology.

Plot summary[edit]

Lucas Corso, a mercenary book-dealer, specializes in acquiring rare and valuable editions for anonymous buyers and other book dealers. Corso visits the narrator, Boris Balkan, to get his opinion on the authenticity of a manuscript he has acquired, apparently a previously unknown draft of Chapter 42 of The Three Musketeers, "The Anjou Wine".

Corso meets with the owner of the manuscript, his occasional friend and fellow bibliophile, Flavio La Ponte. La Ponte was given the manuscript by its previous owner, Enrique Taillefer, immediately prior to his suicide. Corso and La Ponte talk about eccentric book-collector Varo Borja.

In Madrid, Corso visits the beautiful widow of Taillefer, Liana Taillefer, who is intelligent and manipulative. She seems curious about The Anjou Wine and skeptical that Corso's possession of the manuscript is legitimate. On his way out, Corso sees a sinister man with a scar driving a Jaguar.

Corso goes to Toledo to visit the very successful Varo Borja, who shows him a very rare book called The Book of the Nine Doors, which purportedly contains a formula for summoning the devil. The author, Aristide Torchia, printed it in 1666 and was subsequently burned at the stake by the Inquisition, along with most of the copies of the book. Borja's book is one of only three remaining copies in existence. Borja believes that only one copy is legitimate, and the other two (including his own copy) are elaborate forgeries. After showing him his vast collection of occult books, Borja then gives Corso an odd but very lucrative assignment: find the other two copies of The Book of the Nine Doors, and compare them. All Corso's expenses will be paid, and Corso is to acquire the copy he determines to be the original, no matter the cost and by any means necessary.

Corso does a bit of research, and the reader is treated to a history of Dumas' private life, and of the sinister character Rochefort from The Three Musketeers, whom Corso compares to the man with the scar. Corso visits Balkan again, this time in a cafe where Balkan is giving a lecture, and they discuss the villains in The Three Musketeers, including Rochefort, Milady, and Richelieu. Corso meets La Ponte again, and in a bit of self-reference, they playfully pretend they are characters in a mystery novel.

Lucas Corso visits the Ceniza Brothers, experts in book restoration and probable world-class book forgers, and they discuss methods of book forgery. Liana Taillefer visits Corso in his hotel room and attempts to seduce him in return for "The Anjou Wine"; he sleeps with her and sends her on her way without giving her the manuscript, making her an enemy for the rest of the story (this parallels D'Artagnan's liaison with Milady in The Three Musketeers).

Corso takes a train to Lisbon and meets a young woman in her twenties with striking green eyes, who was also at the café listening to Balkan's lecture. A backpacker, she mysteriously identifies herself as "Irene Adler", the name of an antagonist in the Sherlock Holmes stories. They part in Lisbon as Corso visits the owner of a second copy of The Book of Nine Doors, Victor Fargas. Fargas is an aged and obsessive book collector who is the last of a prominent Sintra family. Now he lives alone in an empty mansion with no furniture, selling what is left of his famous library of rare antique books to pay for food and property taxes.

Corso compares the two copies of The Book of Nine Doors and notices slight differences in a few of the illustrations. (Pérez-Reverte includes one set of all nine illustrations in the book.) While most plates are signed by Torchia, some of the variants feature the initials "L.F." in place of the artist's signature. On his way back to the village from Fargas' place, the man with the scar, whom Corso now refers to as "Rochefort", makes an appearance. After a brief appearance of "the Girl" (formerly known as Irene Adler), Corso meets a corrupt policeman named Amilcar Pinto to arrange a burglary of Fargas' home to acquire the book. That night the Girl calls Corso in his hotel with news that Fargas is dead. They visit Fargas' home, find The Book of Nine Doors has been burnt in the fireplace, and also find Fargas drowned in his own fountain. Corso and the girl then leave for Paris, the location of the third copy of the book.

In Paris Corso meets with Achille Replinger, an antique book seller, who verifies the The Anjou Wine manuscript to be genuine and discourses on the history of Dumas' writing habits. As they walk they see La Ponte with Liana Taillefer. Corso returns to his hotel and meets with a concierge, Gruber, and asks him to find the hotel where Liana is staying. That night the Girl visits Corso in his room and they talk about Lucifer and the war in Heaven — at one point she implies that she is actually a witness to the events of the fall, possibly a fallen angel herself.

The next day Corso visits Baroness Frida Ungern, a widow who controls the Ungern Foundation, which in turn owns the largest occult library in Europe, including the last copy of The Book of Nine Doors. Baroness Ungern and Corso flirt as they discuss the occult books she has written and the personal history of Torchia. The Girl calls Corso while he is in the library and alerts him to the presence of Rochefort outside. Baroness Ungern translates the captions of all the illustrations in The Book of Nine Doors for Corso, and Corso notes the differences in this third set of plates. Later Corso drinks in a restaurant and analyses the difference in the three sets of illustrations, discovering that the mismatched plates are the only ones signed "L.F." On the way back to his hotel he is assaulted by Rochefort, who is successfully repelled by the Girl. Corso takes the Girl back to the hotel and they make love.

Gruber locates Liana Taillefer and his friend La Ponte, and Corso goes to their hotel and assaults La Ponte. Rochefort arrives and knocks Corso unconscious. Corso awakes to find that Borja's copy of the book is missing, along with The Anjou Wine. La Ponte realizes he has been used by Liana Taillefer so that she could obtain the Dumas manuscript. Soon afterward, they learn Baroness Ungern has been killed in a fire at her library.

By assuming Liana is playing out her part as Milady and Rochefort as her henchman, Corso deduces Liana has escaped to Meung, a setting in The Three Musketeers. Corso, La Ponte, and the Girl confront Liana, who confirms she is indeed emulating Milady. Rochefort arrives and holds them at gunpoint. The unseen analog to Cardinal Richelieu summons Rochefort by phone, and Corso is taken to a castle appearing in The Three Musketeers.

Richelieu's identity is revealed, and he describes the motives of Liana, Rochefort, and Liana's late husband Enrique. He then introduces Corso to The Club Dumas, a literary social group for very wealthy Dumas enthusiasts, who are all at the castle for an annual banquet. To Corso's chagrin, Richelieu knows nothing about the plot surrounding The Book of Nine Doors, as the two conspiracies are completely unrelated. Although invited to stay, Corso leaves the party confused.

Corso, the Girl, and La Ponte drive back to Spain, where Corso knows he must confront Borja. On a hilltop overlooking Borja's mansion, the Girl explicitly tells Corso that she is a fallen angel who rebelled against God and has wandered the Earth ever since. Corso accepts this and his growing attachment to her.

Corso arrives at Borja's home, realizing that his employer is the perpetrator behind the murders and arsons. Borja has apparently gone completely insane, having dismantled a great deal of his occult book collection in the name of "research", and so that none might follow after him, in an effort to summon the devil and "gain knowledge." Borja explains his methodology and the symbolism in the ritual before he executes it. Corso, who does not care about ritual, demands to be paid, but Borja, too engulfed in the ritual ignores him. Unable to talk sense into him, Corso leaves, revealing to the reader that the ritual must go awry. Corso has deduced that the ninth print needed to properly decipher the ritual was a forgery made by the Ceniza Brothers. As he leaves he hears screams of Borja and thinks that both of them - he and Borja - shall get the devil they deserve.

Literary references[edit]

The Club Dumas references many books. Several of the references are not to a work itself, but to a singular instance of the physical book, such as a rare edition or type of binding. Several of these books are inventions of Perez-Reverte.

Real books[edit]

Other works mentioned are:

Fictional books[edit]

Occultist works published by Aristide Torchia in Venice:

  • Umbrarum Regni Novem Portis, Venice, 1666. translated as The Nine Doors [or Gates] to the Kingdom of Shadows. While itself fictional, many aspects of The Nine Doors appear to be heavily inspired by the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili of Colonna (1499).[6]
  • Key to Captive Thoughts, 1653.
  • A Curious Explanation of Mysteries and Hieroglyphs.
  • The Three Books of the Art, 1658.
  • Nicholas Tamisso, The Secrets of Wisdom, 1650.
  • Bernard Trevisan, The Lost Word, 1661. A fictional edition of an actual 14th century alchemy treatise.

Other occultist writings:

  • Asclemandres. A book mentioning the existence of the Delomalanicon
  • Delomelanicon, or Invocation of Darkness. A long-destroyed book containing a formula for summoning the devil, written by Lucifer himself.
  • De origine, moribus et rebus gestis Satanae.[3]
  • Dissertazioni sopra le apparizioni de' spiriti e diavoli.[3]
  • Restructor omnium rerum.[3]

Non-fiction books written by Baroness Ungern:

  • Isis, the Naked Virgin.
  • The Devil, History and Legend.

Other fictional works mentioned are:

  • Books by Boris Balkan:
    • Lupin, Raffles, Rocambole, and Holmes.
    • Dumas: the Shadow of a Giant.
  • Crozet, Encyclopedia of Printers and Rare and Curious Books
  • Mateu, Universal Bibliography. A 1929 rare books guide used by Corso and his rivals.
  • Julio Ollero, Dictionary of Rare and Improbable Books.
  • Books by Enrique Taillefer:
    • The Thousand Best Desserts of La Mancha. A cooking book.
    • The Secrets of Barbecue. A cooking book.
    • The Dead Man's Hand, or Anne of Austria's Page.. Taillefer's unpublished novel, cribbed largely from Angeline de Gravaillac.
  • Amaury de Verona, Angeline de Gravaillac, or Unsullied Virtue, published in the 19th century in The Popular Illustrated Novel.
  • Books by an unnamed Nobel prize winning author:
    • I, Onan
    • In Search of Myself
    • Oui, C'est Moi.
  • Book by Don Jaime Astarloa (hero of Perez-Reverte's novel The Fencing Master')
    • Treatise on the Art of Fencing

Aristide Torchia[edit]

Aristide Torchia, the fictional author from the novel, has been referred to in other media, including The Ninth Gate, a film based on the novel, and video game, Max Payne.

In the novel and film he is referenced as a historical figure.

Torchia was born in 1620. He was apprenticed in Leyden under the Elzevir family. After returning to Venice he published small works on philosophical and esoteric themes. In 1666, Torchia published De Umbrarum Regni Novem Portis (The Nine Doors to the Kingdom of Shadows), which was in turn based on the Delomelanicon, or Invocation of Darkness, a work supposedly written by Lucifer and that would allow the reader to summon devils. The Inquisition condemned Torchia for magic and witchcraft and burned him at the stake in 1667.

Film adaptation[edit]

Roman Polanski's film The Ninth Gate (1999) was adapted from Pérez-Reverte's novel. While following the same basic plotline for the first two-thirds of the film, the finale is significantly altered in the movie. Several characters' roles diminish, expand, merge, swap or disappear completely, and one of the novel's most important subplots - the Dumas connection - is removed entirely.



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Appearing in the library of the recently deceased Enrique Taillefer
  2. ^ a b c Recommended by Corso to barkeep Makarova
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Appearing in Victor Fargas' collection.
  4. ^ a b c d e Appearing at the Ungern Foundation library
  5. ^ Appearing in Boris Balkan's library.
  6. ^