This is my book of the year so far, much to my surprise, despite being quite different to Perez-Reverte's normal gentle intellectual thrillers.
This is the tale of Theresa Mendoza, a Mexican drug-runner's moll - poor, unambitious and unremarkable - who becomes a narcotics queen and a quite remarkable businesswoman. The story is told partly by Theresa herself as events unfold, and partly by her erstwhile biographer (who I assume to be Perez-Reverte himself).
However, the strength of this novel is that it couldn't be much further from the standard formula for a rags-to-riches tale. First and foremost, as you might expect in the world of drug trafficking, the moral framework is utterly foreign to most readers. In parallel, it is a real challenge to "like" the heroine - she is (in her own perception) emotionless, unambitious, one-dimensional and introverted. It is her biographer's perspective that adds colour and depth, and helps the reader to build a grudging respect for this astute, resilient woman.
So the success of the novel is in prising the reader away from comfortable morals, familiar patterns, predictable twists and turns and black-and-white characters. Of course, on top of that readers can rely on the staples of Perez-Reverte's writing - there is a fabulous quality to his language, he paints locations in beautiful detail and he puts a great deal of craft into his secondary characters (particularly Theresa's Russian sponsor and her friend "Lieutenant" Patty O'Farrell). The technical detail around the planning and logistics of the drug trade is fantastic.
In summary, not a comfortable read and certainly not perfect, but intriguing and rewarding.