What We Become by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Reviewed by Richard Goldman
Hardcover June 2016

Buy it at Mystery Lovers Bookshop

I've certainly enjoyed every book by Arturo Perez-Reverte although some I've loved more than others. In the latter category titles like The Flanders Panel, The Fencing Master and The Siege come to mind. Now I'd like to add What We Become.

At my stage of life how could I not love a story filled with bittersweet romance, the simultaneous satisfactions and regrets of growing older, the memories of past events. Plus we've got cosmopolitan backdrops, gorgeous clothes and the best of the '20s, '30's and '60s.

The story spans 40 years and concerns a deep love between two people who only spend perhaps three weeks together during that period. Max Costa meets Mecha Inzunza  in 1928 on a trans-Atlantic liner bound for Buenos Aires where Mecha's husband intends to write a tango that, by being better than Ravel's Bolero will win a bet that he has with that well-known composer. While Mecha and her husband Armando are wealthy first class passengers Max is employed by the ship's owners to be a dancing partner for passengers. In this he is very accomplished: handsome, debonair, well-dressed, an excellent dancer. Naturally he's almost quite a gigolo and on the way to becoming quite a thief.

Over the coming 40 years Max and Mecha will meet twice more: in 1937 in Nice and in 1966 in Sorrento. On each occasion Max is up to no good but the attraction between the two lovers is undiminshed. The strands of these three stories are interwoven throughout the book with interesting parallels and contrasts as the story in the "present" carries forward while we gradually uncover the past events that led these two to their current situation.

While the romantic and erotic shenanigans carry on there is plenty of other intrigue including jewel thefts, the Spanish Civil War, Max working for fascist spies and finally, a chess matchup between Mecha's son and a Russian grandmaster that is chock full of Cold War-era hostility.

Brilliantly written, full of wonderful historical scenes, two unforgettable characters. Who could ask for more.