Arturo Pérez-Reverte is a dreadful tango dancer. But he is a top analyst of mechanisms and a sagacious decanter of essences. The author of popular novels like The Flanders Panel or the Alatriste series is able to take something that he does not personally master and raise it to an art form through the use of words.
The 61-year-old author presented his new book, El tango de la Guardia Vieja, at Madrid's Teatro Español this week. While retaining the grittiness, suspense and historical background that are the hallmarks of Pérez-Reverte's narratives, this tale of tortuous love and tango could well be the most romantic of his 22 novels.
The genesis for the story came at a Buenos Aires hotel back when he was enjoying the mass success of The Club Dumas, published in 1993. Pérez-Reverte saw a good-looking man dancing with a woman in her fifties with great flair. "I began to consider tango in its light as a symbol. I was 39 or 40, but I was still lacking the proper gaze, enough gray hair and a weariness of many things," the writer revealed to his Madrid audience.
Pérez-Reverte has put a lot of himself into the character of Max Costa, the seducer who discovers that the meaning of life is reduced to one thing: for a superior woman to look at him with admiration or respect. There are traces of the writer's childhood in the character, but mostly remnants of his own past as a war reporter, notably in the tricks Max Costa uses to survive in extreme situations and find accomplices. "I try to make a story that works, and you need tools for that story to flow efficiently," he said. "Each novel poses a different challenge."