Five stars without hesitation. This is a true, break-neck speed, thriller somewhat in the flavour of The Thirty-Nine Steps. In fact, if you dig deep enough there are other parallels. Set in the scholastic and obsessive world of antique book collections, Perez-Reverte manages to infuse his writing, and his characters, with a infectious passion for the literary classics. In Lucas Corso we find a typically Perez-Revertine lead (a modest and withdrawn existential hero of curious yet fanatical habits - a man living in the past) struggling with familiar themes of murder, intregue, and especially, conspiracy. Naturally this is a conspiracy bound-up with at least one feme fatal. Here the plot surrounds Corso's expertese in authenticating collectable antique publications, one of which is an Alexandre Dumas manuscript. The other text is similarly old, similarly precious work - the demonic 'Nine Gates to the Kingdom of Shadows', a text that cost it's author his life and possibly even his soul. It is these two strands that come together so potently in this book as members of the mysterious 'Dumas Club' and collectors of the occult become indistinguishable as Corso is pursued across Europe leaving a trail of corpses in their wake. Such pressure is always required to draw-out Perez-Revertes's characters' true natures - and here some of Corso's more dubious character traits emerge, leaving as ambiguous but believeable a human-being as you will find in modern fiction. However, it is the technique of the classic mystery/thriller that makes this such an extrodinary exciting read. Sadly it is one that is absent from the feature film - directed by Roman Polanski and staring Johnny Depp - The Nine Gates. So my advice is both to read this book, and to read it first: since, of the two strands of the novel, Polanski takes only the occult (cheerfully removing characters, rearranging plotlines) and shamefully makes Corso an American purely for the benefit of americans. The result is a rather formulaic occult-horror flick that co-stars his wife. Enjoy the book first and you'll find the film receives an added dimention as a result.