Father Lorenzo Quart

(creator: Arturo Pérez-Reverte)

Arturo Perez-Reverte
Father Lorenzo Quart appears in only one novel: The Seville Communion (Spanish publication,1995, with the title La Piel del Tamba [The Skin of the Drum]. First English translation by Sonia Soto, 1998, with the new title The Seville Communion).

Quart is a very tall, slim, tough and handsome 38-year-old Jesuit priest who acts as an an agent for the Vatican's Institute of External Affairs. His boss there, Archbishop Spada, "held the key to all the secrets of a state that had three thousand employees in the Vatican itself, three thousand archbishops around the world, and responsibility for the spiritual guidance of a billion souls". So he found it very useful being able to send Quart on dangerous or awkward jobs.

Quart always looked very sure of himself in his "well-cut suit, matching black silk shirt with a Roman collar, and his fine, handmade leather shoes". He "was perfectly aware of his failings as a priest: he knew he lacked charity and compassion, for instance. And humility, despite his self-discipline. He may have been without these qualities, but he was thorough and adhered strictly to the rules. This made him valuable to his superiors". There is little sense of the divine about him. He'd come from a really poor background and saw the church as his escape: it was "a place where rules provided most of the answers as long as one didn't question the basic concept". For him, self-discipline replaced faith and "it was precisely the lack of faith, with all the pride and rigour needed to sustain it, that made Quart so good at his job". He is what the Archbishop of Seville approvingly described as "a career priest".

In this story, he is sent to investigate a strange message hacked onto the Pope's personal computer about a small old church in Seville that "kills to defend itself" against threatened demolition. It is there that Quant, despite much opposition, meets up with an arresting series of characters, ranging from unscrupulous bankers to old Father Ferro, who would rather die than see his church destroyed by bulldozers as a part of a big development coup. Father Ferro himself still goes in for "old-style religion, with a priest in a cassock intoning Mass in Latin, the vital link between man and the great mysteries". He still tries to offer "a church of faith and solace" that could "reassure man confronted with the horror of his own solitude, death and the void". Quart gradually grows to respect him. As he watches him celebrate Mass, he thinks that "it mattered little whether there was a God prepared to punish or reward, to damn or grant eternal life". What really mattered to the congregation was "solace. It was a friendly hand in the darkness, a warmth to keep out the cold".

But even Ferro turns out to be much less of a believer than he at first seemed. "What does it matter whether I have faith or not?" he admits. "Those who come to me have faith. That's justification enough for the existence of Our Lady of the Tears (his church)." As for himself, "for twenty-five years, sitting at the bedside of those who gripped my hands because I was their only comfort in the face of death, I prayed to Him. But I never received an answer". As he looks up at the stars, he asks Quart, "What part do we play in this great scene spread out above our heads? What do our miserable little lives and desires mean?" "I don't think I like astronomy," he (Quart) replied slowly. "It borders on despair." "Despair? On the contrary,Father Quart, It gives one serenity. Because it's only the serious, valuable, significant things that cause us pain if we lose them. Little withstands the awareness that one is a tiny drop in an ocean, in the red twilight of the universe ... Perhaps only the offer of a friendly hand, before our stars go out one by one and it turns very, very cold."

Quart meets the beautiful Macarena Bruner, one of Father Ferro's most determined supporters although she is still married to, but separated from, one of the unscrupulous bankers who are plotting to get the old priest evicted from his church. Quart finds her dangerously attractive. "It would be fun to say confession to you, Would you like me to?" she teases him. Quart, for whom "celibacy was a question of pride - and therefore a sin rather than a virtue", is sorely tempted to break one of the main rules by which he lives.

The story is told in a very down-to-earth and realistic way. There is plenty to hold the interest, a murder and kidnapping included, and even some fine comic criminals, and there's a real feeling for the sights and sounds of old Seville.The clergy, including Quart himself, come alive, not as holier-than-thou characters but as very ordinary often ambitious human beings with all the usual human concerns and failings. Their religion (or lack of it) offers them few consolations, but it's a gripping story, written with an attention to background detail that is rather reminiscent of Umberto Eco but much more accessible. Quart himself develops as a character throughout, and it all builds up to a dramatic, if less than happy, ending. Recommended.

Quart is the creation of Arturo Pérez-Reverte (1951- ), born in Cartagena in Spain, who is a deservedly best-selling Spanish novelist and film scriptwriter, much of whose work has been translated into English. He worked on oil tankers before becoming a journalist and then a war correspondent in Bosnia. He has written over twenty books, only one of which features Father Quart.

Pérez-Reverte has his own official website (in Spanish), complete with lengthy audio interviews (also in Spanish). There is a very odd Google English translation which is of interest, although something of a challenge to use. The site opens on a page about Captain Alatriste (another of the author's characters) so you will have to click on El escritor at the top of the page to take you to information about the author. All very confusing. You won't find any mention of The Seville Communion either, as the direct translation, The Skin of the Drums, is used instead.

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The Seville Communion cover
There have been numerous translations of the book into different languages, so there are many different covers. This is one of the most arresting.
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