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Sunday, July 18, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Book Buzz
Delicious dialogue is but one of the charms of Arturo Pérez-Reverte

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Arturo Pérez-Reverte has a new book out: "Queen of the South" (Putnam, $25.95), about a daring young woman mired in the gritty world of Mexican drug trafficking. But readers new to this Spanish crafter of elegant thrillers should first dip into the "The Fencing Master," one of several Pérez-Reverte books just reissued in paperback (translated by Margaret Jull Costa, Harvest, $13).

"The Fencing Master" is the story of Don Jaime Astarloa, an aging fencing instructor in 19th-century Spain who teaches a classical but anachronistic form of fencing to the sons of wealthy clients. He reluctantly takes on a talented female student and becomes ensnared in romance, political intrigue and murder.

The outcome is never much in doubt, but the joy of this book is the author's portrayal of a man determined to live by his code of honor at all costs — considerable costs. Here's an interchange between Don Jaime and his student.

"She gave him a seductive smile. 'One can never be too unfair with men, Don Jaime.'

'A very cruel response.'

'And a very sincere one.'

He looked at her thoughtfully. 'Doña Adela ... I would give anything to be able to send my card and my seconds to the man who inspired such bitter thoughts in you.'

She looked at him, amused at first, then surprised when she realized that he was not joking. She started to say something but stopped, her lips half-open, as if savoring what she had just heard.

'That,' she said after a moment, 'is the most gallant compliment I have ever heard in my life.' "

Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times book editor

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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