Like the previous two books in this trilogy, most of the action here is set in Cochadebajo de los Gatos and concerns the affectionately portrayed locals. Whereas the first book (The War Of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts) is concerned primarily with politics and the second (Senor Vivo And The Coca Lord) is centred around the drugs trade, this final instalment in the trilogy focuses on religion.
Following on from the fame of Dionisio in Senor Vivo And the Coca Lord, the Catholic Church and the Cardinal in particular decide they need to root out the heretics and begin a new Inquisition, with Cochadebajo as their ultimate target. Perhaps this is a backlash to the unstable society or, more likely, it is prompted by Cardinal Guzman’s own guilt.
Guzman isn’t a bad man, but he isn’t a chaste man either. He has a very loyal and affectionate maid and a surprisingly tender relationship with their illegitimate son, Cristobal. Guzman is well aware of his hypocrisy, in having this child and his guilt manifests itself physically, causing him great pain, illness and hallucinations.
Guzman is colourful creation, but so are all the characters here. As a book it can be read by itself, but is much better read as part of the trilogy, favourite characters return and more are introduced as the sub-plots weave themselves through the main narrative. Following on from the rest of the South American trilogy, there is a lot of magical realism throughout, as well as romance, violence and humour.
Out of all three, this is probably my least favourite book, but that’s not to say I don’t like it, rather that the other two were just stronger, more original and held my interest slightly better. I still thoroughly enjoyed this though and was sorry the trilogy had to come to an end. If, like most people I’ve spoken to, you’ve come to de Bernières through Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, then this trilogy will be quite a surprise to you. It’s still clearly de Bernières, with his wonderful character creations and vivid descriptions of war in one paragraph, romance in the next, but this trilogy is more comedic, perhaps more cartoony if one was being hyper-critical, but equally as entertaining and enthralling.
“His Eminence looked at the desk in his room and saw that it had become a rotten coffin through whose distorted boards there sprouted verminous cascades of ancient hair that waved like the tentacles of an anemone. There was no doubt that the grey wisps were growing apace and were winding about the furniture. A hank of it curled about his ankle and began to constrict it like a boa. He shouted, pulling his leg away, but the force reduced the casket to dust, and on the floor where his desk had been, there was now a cadaver watching him. The skin was shrunk over the bones like an Indian mummy, the hair was growing with the speed of a stream, and the amber teeth of the mouth smiled at him with contemptuous inanity.”
If you like this author you might like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
If you like the colourful characters you might like The Book With No Name
If you like the theme of illegitimate children within the Church you might like The Scarlet Letter