The Seville Communion is a literary mystery and thriller so tight it could hold hot water. With each page there seems the opportunity for more danger, more strength, more weaknesses, more blood (either hoped or dreaded) leaving the reader continuously baited. Arturo Perez-Reverte, the author of The Flanders Panel and The Club Dumas, has created a story and characters so real and likable (even the evil ones) that the reader can't help but become emotionally involved.

Originally released in 1995 in Spanish under the title La Piel del Tambor, the translator Sonia Soto does a skillful job in capturing the nuances of both the Spanish and English languages, with a little Latin thrown in for the priests.

The story at first seems deceptively simple. A hacker breaks into the Vatican computer system and sends a personal message to the Pope regarding the fate of a local church in Seville, Spain. There are two deaths, both accidental. The e-mail letter, however, differs with authorities and implies anonymously that the church building itself is responsible. Concerned mostly with the reality of the security breach and not the crack-pot message, the Vatican sends one of its best to investigate. In a textbook study of how things are not always as they appear, it is here that storyteller Perez-Reverte begins to tie the reader in knots in an intriguing and foreign location with old and new blending seamlessly together in a realistic story which is rich in history and frighteningly contemporary at the same time. Romantics will fall in love with Seville and with the investigating priest from Rome who serves as the main character. What Richard Chamberlain was to The Thorn Birds, Father Quart is to Seville. He is attractive, disciplined, and tested. Unlike Chamberlain's character, though, Quart's discipline comes not from faith, but from pride. Characters begin to emerge and evolve quickly. All can betray and be betrayed. It becomes clear to the reader and to the main character that what is at stake is much more than electronic security or the survival of a particular parish. For what would it profit a person to gain any of these and lose his own soul in the process? The challenge is a serious one. You must determine how Seville unravels before Perez-Reverte tells you, and he waits until the very last line to do it. From intricate plot to well-developed characters, every storytelling element is here for the lazy "reader" (film rights sold to Canal Plus and Iberoamericana), but don't wait for the celluloid.

If we are to believe the sad publishing statistics that the average American buys only one book per year, this should be that book. If you can afford the luxury of two books, read this one twice. It's that good.

Reviewed by Clay Stafford.

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