The Painter of Battles

The Painter of Battles

3.9 19
by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

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Acclaimed author Arturo Pérez-Reverte has earned a distinguished reputation as a master of the literary thriller with his international bestsellers The Club Dumas and The Queen of the South. Now, in this haunting new work, Pérez-Reverte has written his most accomplished novel to date. The Painter of Battles is a captivating tale of love, war, art, and


Acclaimed author Arturo Pérez-Reverte has earned a distinguished reputation as a master of the literary thriller with his international bestsellers The Club Dumas and The Queen of the South. Now, in this haunting new work, Pérez-Reverte has written his most accomplished novel to date. The Painter of Battles is a captivating tale of love, war, art, and revenge.

Andrés Faulques, a world-renowned war photographer, has retired to a life of solitude on the Spanish coast. On the walls of a tower overlooking the sea, he spends his days painting a huge mural that pays homage to history’s classic works of war art and that incorporates a lifetime of disturbing images.
One night, an unexpected visitor arrives at Faulques’ door and challenges the painter to remember him. As Faulques struggles to recall the face, the man explains that he was the subject of an iconic photo taken by Faulques in a war zone years ago. “And why have you come looking for me?” asks Faulques. The stranger answers, “Because I’m going to kill you.”

This story transports Faulques to the time when he crossed continents to capture conflicts on film with his lover, Olvido, at his side. Until she walked into his life, Faulques muses, he had believed he would survive both war and women.

As the tense dialogue between Faulques and his visitor continues, the stakes grow ever higher. What they are grappling with quickly proves to be not just Faulques’ fate but the very nature of human love and cruelty itself.

Arturo Pérez-Reverte perfectly balances the shadows of the heart with the chaos of war in this stunning composition on morality. Superb and tautly written, The Painter of Battles is a deeply affecting novel about life and art.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Pérez-Reverte delivers a wonderfully suspenseful wartime thriller about a painter and photographer who receives a visit from his troubled past in the form of a man who was the subject of one of his photographs. Simon Vance's classical British accent brings added life to the story, offering a vivid reading that will transport listeners to another time and place. His delivery is clear and often unnerving, knowing exactly when and where to capture the profound sense of foreboding and tension that abounds. Vance's performance is remarkable. He brings central character Andres Faulques into existence through a tremendous attention to detail and dialect and a firm understanding of Pérez-Reverte's gripping tale. Simultaneous release with the Random House hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 26, 2007). (Feb.)

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Library Journal

Often called a master of the literary thriller for works like The Club Dumas, Perez-Reverte is much more than that, and his talent has never been on better display than it is here. The author draws on his experience as a war journalist to craft a ruthlessly examined tale of moral responsibility. Former war photographer Andrew Faulques is holed up in a tower, where he's painting a mural displaying the human experience of war as filtered through the great war paintings. Then a stranger arrives and calmly announces his plans to kill Faulques; having been immortalized in one of Faulques's images as the face of Croatian resistance during the recent Balkan wars ultimately destroyed this man's life. As Faulques cautiously unfolds his story to his would-be assailant, we're brought uncomfortably close to human violence and questions of both culpability and sheer human evil, summed up tersely in one scene of Faulques lying in wait with a sniper to photograph his work. Faulques rigidly adheres to the notion of a universe run mechanically by rules beyond our control (as he tells Olvido, his lover and colleague, killed on the job), and the narrative's tension derives partly from wondering whether Faulques will ultimately retain these beliefs. With extraordinary imagery; highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ9/1/07.]
—Barbara Hoffert

From the Publisher
“[Pérez-Reverte’s] best book yet . . . a game of mental chess, an excursion into art, history and imagination.”
The Times (London)

“A remarkable achievement. Not only does the clash of ideas and emotions echo after you have turned the last page–this novel will change what you see in images from datelines around the world.”
Scott Simon, author of Pretty Birds

“Arturo Pérez-Reverte has established himself as the master of the intellectual thriller.”
–Chicago Tribune

“[A] taut literary thriller [with] meticulous detail and dark, brooding tone.”
–Publishers Weekly

“A gripping story of war, cruelty, testimony, and the past . . . Arturo Pérez-Reverte is the great European storyteller of the 21st century.”
–Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Young Stalin

“Reminds American readers of the sublime rhetoric of Faulkner and how such passages in the hands of a master can add to the momentum of the story.”
–San Francisco Chronicle

“A tour de force [that] explores the great themes of human existence.”
–The Australian

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He swam one hundred and fifty strokes out to sea and the same number back, as he did each morning, until he felt the round pebbles of the shore beneath his feet. He dried himself, using the towel he’d hung on a tree trunk that had been swept in by the sea, put on his shirt and sneakers, and went up the narrow path leading from the cove to the watchtower. There he made coffee and began, mixing blues and grays that would lend his work the proper atmosphere. During the night—each night he slept less and less, and that only a restless dozing—he had decided that cold tones would be needed to delineate the melancholy line of the horizon, where a veiled light outlined the silhouettes of warriors walking beside the sea. Those tones would envelop them in reflections from the waves washing onto the beach that he had spent four days creating with light touches of Titian white, applied pure. So in a glass jar he mixed white, blue, and a minimal amount of natural sienna, until they were transformed into a luminous blue. Then he daubed some of the paint on the oven tray he used as a palette, dirtied the mixture with a little yellow, and worked without stopping the rest of the morning. Finally he clamped the handle of the brush between his teeth and stepped back to judge the effect. Sky and sea were now harmoniously combined in the mural that circled the interior of the tower, and although there was still a lot to be done, the horizon was now a smooth, slightly hazy line that accentuated the loneliness of the men—dark strokes splashed with metallic sparks—dispersed and moving away beneath the rain.

He rinsed the brushes with soap and water and set them to dry. From the foot of the cliff below came the sound of the motors and music of the tourist boat that ran along the coast every day at the same hour. With no need to look, Andrés Faulques knew that it was one o’clock. He heard the usual woman’s voice, amplified by the loudspeaker system, and it seemed even stronger and clearer when the boat drew even with the inlet, for then the sound reached the tower with no obstacle other than the few pines and bushes that despite erosion and slides were still clinging to the cliff face.

This place is known as Cala del Arráez. It was once the refuge of Berber pirates. Up there on the top of the cliff you can see an old watchtower that was constructed at the beginning of the eighteenth century as a part of the coastal defense, with the specific purpose of warning nearby villages of Saracen incursions . . .

It was the same voice every day: educated, with good diction. Faulques imagined the woman to be young; no doubt a local guide who accompanied the tourists on the three-hour tour the boat—a sixty-five-foot tender painted blue and white that docked in Puerto Umbría—made between Ahorcados Island and Cabo Malo. In the last two months, from atop the cliff, Faulques had watched it pass, its deck filled with people armed with film and video cameras as summertime music thundered over the loudspeakers, so loud that the interruptions of the woman’s voice came as a relief.

A well-known painter lives in that tower, which stood abandoned for a long time, and he is embellishing the entire interior wall with a large mural. Unfortunately, it is private property and no visitors are allowed . . .

This time the woman was speaking Spanish, but on other occasions it might be English, Italian, or German. Only when the tickets were bought with francs—four or five times that summer—did a masculine voice relieve her, in French. At any rate, Faulques thought, the season was almost over; with every trip there were fewer tourists on board the tender, and soon those daily visits would become weekly, until they were interrupted by the harsh gray mistrals that blew in the winter, funneling in through the straits called Bocas de Poniente, darkening sea and sky.

He turned his attention back to the painting, where new cracks had appeared. The large circular panorama was not as yet continuous; some zones were blank except for strokes of charcoal, simple black lines sketched on the white primer of the wall. The whole formed an immense and disquieting landscape, no title, no specific time, where the shield half buried in the sand, the medieval helmet splashed with blood, the shadow of an assault rifle falling over a forest of wood crosses, the ancient walled city and modern concrete-and-glass towers coexisted less as anachronisms than as evidence.

Faulques went back to his painting, laboriously, patiently. Although the technical execution was correct, it was not an outstanding work, and he knew it. He had a good hand for drawing, but he was a mediocre painter. He knew that as well. In truth, he had always known it; however, the mural was not destined to be seen by anyone but him. That had little to do with artistic ability and much to do with his memory. With an eye guided by thirty years of hearing the sound of a camera shutter. Hence the framing—that was as good a name to give it as any other—of all those straight lines and angles traced with a singular, vaguely Cubist severity that lent beings and objects contours as impossible to breach as barbed wire or moats. The mural took up the wall of the ground floor of the watchtower in a continuous panorama twenty-five meters in circumference and almost three meters in height, interrupted only by the openings of two narrow, facing windows, the door that led outside, and the spiral staircase that led to the upper floor that Faulques had arranged as his living quarters: a gas ring, a small refrigerator, a canvas cot, a table and chairs, a rug, and a trunk. He had lived there for seven months, and had spent the first two making it habitable: a temporary waterproof wood roof for the tower, concrete beams to reinforce the walls, shutters at the windows, and the drain that emptied out over the cliff from the small lower-level latrine carved out of the rock. He also had an outdoor water tank installed atop a board-and-tile shed that served both as a shower and as a garage for the motorcycle he rode down to the village each week to buy food.

The cracks worried Faulques. Too soon, he told himself. And too many. They would not actually affect the future of his work—it was a work without a future from the minute he discovered the abandoned tower and conceived his plan—only the time he needed to execute it. With that in mind, he nervously passed the tips of his fingers over the crazing that fanned out across the part of the mural that was closest to being finished, over the black and red strokes that represented the asymmetrical, polyhedral backlighting of the walls of the ancient city burning in the distance—Bosch, Goya, and Dr. Atl, among others: the hand of man, nature, and destiny fused in the magma of a single horizon. There would be more cracks. These weren’t the first. The structural reinforcing of the tower, the plastering, the white acrylic primer, were not enough to counteract the deterioration of the three-hundred-year-old building, the damage that had been caused by harsh weather, erosion, and salt from the nearby sea while it was abandoned. It was also, in a certain way, a struggle against time; its tranquil passing could not disguise its inexorable victory. Although not even that, Faulques concluded with a familiar professional fatalism—he’d seen a few cracks in his lifetime—was of major importance.

The pain—a sharp stab in his side over his right hip—arrived every eight or ten hours with reliable punctuality, faithful to their tryst, though this time it came with no warning. Faulques held his breath and didn’t move, to allow time for the first whiplash of pain to end; then he picked up a jar from the table and swallowed two tablets with a sip of water. In recent weeks he’d had to double the dose. After a moment, calmer now—it was worse when the pain came at night, and although it was eased by the tablets, it kept him awake till dawn—he reviewed the panorama with a slow look around the entire circle: the distant, modern city and the other city, closer and in flames, the abject silhouettes fleeing from it, the somber, foreshortened, armed men in the foreground, the reddish reflection of the fire—fine brushstrokes, vermilion over yellow—sliding along the metal of their guns, with the peculiar brilliance that catches the eye of an unfortunate protagonist, uneasy the minute the door opens—cloc, cloc, cloc—the nightly sound of boots, iron, and guns, precise as a musical score, before they make him come outside, barefoot, and cut off—in the updated version, lop off—his head. Faulques’ idea was to extend the light of the burning city as far as the gray dawn of the beach, where the rainy landscape and the sea in the background were fading into an eternal twilight, a prelude to that same night, or another identical to it, an interminable helix that brought the point of the wheel, the swinging pendulum of history, to the top of the arc, again and again, and sent it back the other way.

A well-known painter, the voice had announced. She always used the same words, while Faulques, imagining the tourists aiming their cameras toward the tower, wondered where the woman—the man who spoke in French never mentioned the tower’s resident—had acquired such inexact information. Maybe, he concluded, it was merely a way of adding more interest to the tour. If Faulques was known in certain places and professional circles, it was not for his painting. After a few youthful cracks at it, and for the rest of his professional life, drawing and brushes had been set aside, far—at least so he had thought until only recently—from the situations, landscapes, and people recorded through the viewfinder of his camera: the stuff of the world of colors, sensations, and faces that constituted his search for the definitive image; the both fleeting and eternal moment that would explain all things. The hidden rule that made order out of the implacable geometry of chaos. Paradoxically, only since he had put away his cameras and taken up his brushes anew, in search of the—reassuring?—perspective he had never been able to capture through a lens, had Faulques felt closer to what he had sought for so long without finding. Maybe, he now thought, the scene had never been in front of his eyes, in the soft green of a rice field, in the motley anthill of a souk, in the tears of a child or the mud of a trench, but inside him, in the backwash of his own memory and the ghosts that lined its shores like markers. In the tracing of sketch and color, slow, meticulous, thoughtful, that is possible only when the pulse is already beating slowly. When old, mean-spirited gods, and their consequences, cease to harass man with their hatreds and their favors.

Battle painting. The concept was daunting to anyone, whether or not he was expert, and Faulques had approached the subject with all the circumspection and technical humility possible. Before he’d bought the tower and moved into it, he had spent years collecting documentation, visiting museums, studying the execution of a genre that hadn’t interested him in the least during the days of his youthful studies and tastes. Faulques had trekked through galleries of battles from the Escorial and Versailles to certain Rivera or Orozco murals, from Greek vessels to the mill of Los Frailes, from specialized books to works exhibited in museums throughout Europe and America, observing everything with the unique eye that three decades of capturing war images had given him: in all, twenty-six centuries of the iconography of war. The mural was the end result of all these sources: warriors strapping on armor in terra-cotta reds and black; legionnaires sculpted on Trajan’s column; the Bayeux tapestry; Carducho’s victory at Fleurus; Saint-Quentin, Spain’s victory over France, as seen by Luca Giordano; slaughters painted by Antonio Tempesta; Leonardo’s studies of the battle of Anghiari; Callot’s engravings; the burning of Troy interpreted by Collantes; Goya’s Second of May and Disasters of War; the Suicide of Saul by Bruegel the Elder; the sacking and conflagrations depicted by Brueghel the Younger, or by Falcone; the Burgundy wars; Fortuny’s Battle of Tetuan, the Napoleonic grenadiers and horsemen of Meissonier and Detaille; the cavalry charges of Lin, Meulen, and Roda; an assault on a convent by Pandolfo Reschi; a night conflict by Matteo Stom; Paolo Uccello’s medieval clashes; and so many other works studied for hours and days and months, searching for a key, a secret, an explanation or a useful tool. Hundreds of notes and books, thousands of images, piled everywhere, around and inside Faulques, in the tower, and in his memory.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s bestselling books, including The Club Dumas, The Flanders Panel, The Seville Communion, and the Captain Alatriste series, have been translated into thirty-four languages in fifty countries and have sold millions of copies. Pérez-Reverte was born in 1951 in Cartagena, Spain, and now lives in Madrid, where he was recently elected to the Spanish Royal Academy. A retired war journalist, he covered conflicts in Angola, Bosnia, Croatia, El Salvador, Lebanon, Libya, Nicaragua, Romania, the Persian Gulf, and Sudan, among others. He now writes fiction full-time.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Painter of Battles 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
JonnyBananas More than 1 year ago
Andres Falques is a quiet man living on the coast of Spain in Puerto Umbria. He was a war photographer. Currently his main passion is painting and drawing. While he is living in Puerto Umbria, Falques' main goal is to paint a mural of his favorite pictures he had taken over the years on the walls of an abandoned tower. The mood of the book is set with the first scene creating a very eerie image of Falques swimming alone in a small reservoir near his house very early in the morning. The author describes the lake, the mist, and the darkness. The first four chapters of this book moved a bit slowly. The author has the main character walking through the streets and photographing people that were doing day to day things or those who were starving to death. A Croatian man named Markovic is introduced near the beginning of the book. He is a man that Falques photographed. Markovic goes on to say that he is curious as to why and how Falques could take pictures of people dying and then simply walk away as if nothing has happened. As they go on to talk about Falques' occupation Markovic blurts out a comment that gives this book a sudden change of direction. Markovic says that he is going to kill Falques because he was careless about him and so many when they were photographed. I believe the main theme of this book to be, that a person's actions can affect another individual in ways that they did not expect. Falques exists to wash away the memories of the horror of war. When he photographed subjects he remained distant and emotion less from them. His personality was similar to how he worked as a war photographer. The subjects he photographed did not always understand or appreciate the absence of his emotion toward them. My favorite parts in the story were the passionate descriptions given by Falques about the love and intimacy in his relationship with his former lover, Olvido Ferrara. She was a beautiful Spanish/Italian model who shared the same career of being a war photographer and painter. They shared careers, travel and an undying lust for each other. She was outgoing and vivacious and he was very solemn and serious, together they created a yin and yang balance. Drastic changes occur in the relationship for Falques and Ferrara. Falques then spends his days reviewing all of his photos and painting the images onto the walls of a circular room in the abandoned tower. The walls reflect the emptiness in his heart and the cracks show the pain he has gone through as he tries to cover them up with paint. He feels that there is nothing left in his life but to paint and photograph. I see that the talents of a writer, such as Perez-Reverte, has the ability to recreate the horror of war with graphic images seen through his characters camera lens while also taking you into the private world of two passionate lovers. Showing the reader the simultaneous existence of horror and beauty. And that somehow the two opposite experiences can be side by side in a person's life, driving them forward. Olvido said to Falques, "I like seeing you in jeans you've worn out at the knees and shirts with the sleeves rolled up, see your hard, thin body and watch you change lenses or film while you're pressed against the wall and they're shooting at us..." I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys graphic vivid descriptions of scenes and characters. This book may not be appropriate for anyone under the age of 15. By Jonny Mangi
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Arturo Perez-Reverte is an amazing author. From the moment I started reading his book The Painter of Battles I was lost in his words. His writing style is great, and the way his characters are all a big part of the book. Andres Faulques is a worldwide known photographer that has retired to a tower on the coast that overlooks the ocean. He spends his long days alone painting a mural on the walls of his favorite photos of war. Little does he know that his mural incorporates a lifetime of disturbing images. Perez-Reverte really got into depth about his scenes and encounters with the other life. He’s able to recreate horror scenes from war with the characters camera lens. One of the characters, Olvido (his former lover ) said to Falques, "I like seeing you in jeans you've worn out at the knees and shirts with the sleeves rolled up, see your hard, thin body and watch you change lenses or film while you're pressed against the wall and they're shooting at us..." To me that really captures an imagine in my head of him standing up taking pictures, which is one of the many examples of how wonderfully Perez-Reverte can capture a scene. I did like this book very much. I liked it because it kept me wondering throughout the whole book because I never really knew what was gonna happen. Although I may have thought I did, there was always a doubt in the back of my mind wondering. I also enjoyed how graphic some of the parts seemed to me. I would recommend this book to anyone over the age of 15 or 16 because younger children may not be mature enough for this kind of context
TroyJ More than 1 year ago
When i was asked to read a book by a spanish author I looked at my teachers book collection and noticed this book. I enjoyed this book and so far one of my best reads yet. So this book is about a war photographer who took many award winning war photographs durring his photography career. He now lives in a tower overlooking the spanish coast where he paints a mural showing examples of all the different types of conflicts he has seen. One night the war photographer known as Faulques is interupted by a strange man who explains to him that he took a photograph of him durring the war and tells Faulques that the photo has ruined his life. Faulques asks him why the man is looking for him his reply,to kill him. So long story short Faulques is forced to recall parts of his past when he loved a woman and how he "Risked his life everyday for art and testomony"-Part of the back cover.
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LAX More than 1 year ago
The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte is an engaging and thought provoking novel. Andres Falques, the main character is a retired war photographer who is now living his remaining years peacefully by the sea and painting scenes from his past encounters. He lives in solitude until he is confronted by a man who claims to have been in one of the famous photographer's photos. The man tells Falques he will kill him, but before that he has to make him understand what the painter has done to him and understand the true nature of the human mind. This leads into very interesting and deep conversing provoking Falques to recall the times when he was a photographer in war torn countries and the horrors he witnessed but he also recalls his only love and their times spent together while photographing. He claims before her he believed he would be able to survive war and women. As the story continues the conversations and flashbacks reveal the true evil and cruelty of man. I very much enjoyed this novel. This book for me was a very eye opening to the horrors of war and the effects that we might not always see. It really made you reconsider how people perceive the world and each other and the actions taken when things go bad. The way Perez-Reverte wrote the book with such vivid details, from the paintings, to the photographs, to the memory recollections, they really made you feel emotional even though you weren't experiencing things first hand. Throughout the novel I felt anger at the horrifying actions of others and also sadness for events that transpired during war and panic but also I felt happiness, stories of friendship and love and the relief of being safe from harm in a war torn city. It is very rare for an author to be able to evoke emotions just by writing. Perez-Reverte can which goes to show how skillfully this book was written. Besides the actual writing and descriptiveness of the book it is also a fascinating story, taking you from the calm shores of Falques tower by the seaside to the remembrances of his time spent photographing chaos and destruction in all manner of European countries. Although a lot of the story is recalling past events the recollections are often intense and engaging keeping you glued to your seat and wanting to read on. It is a very satisfying read. All in all I would highly recommend The Painter of Battles. It's a great story but probably more for higher level readers and more mature ages. It's captivating and the vivid details make it all the more satisfying to read. However it can be very graphic and or disturbing at times in order to capture the true nature of things. It is not necessarily for the squeamish or faint of heart. But overall it's a very good read. Eye opening and well written. So if you like the information I have provided and are interested in reading, don't hesitate to go pick up a copy. You will not regret it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
omnivoreRS More than 1 year ago
Perez-Reverte is one of the most thoughtful and ruminative writers of suspense stories. Leaving the Captain Alatriste series aside, his mature novels put interesting people into both physically and morally difficult situations that are hard to resolve and often are not resolved. But "The Painter of Battles" is too much focused on what is admittedly a fascinating moral question (What is the responsibility of an oberver--in this case a photographer--for the consequences of his public observation?)to hold interest as a novel. The plot is very slight and the central moral issues are canvassed so repetitively that I quit about halfway through.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Still haunted from his coverage of war, photographer Andrew Faulques hides from the world. As a catharsis of the atrocities he witnessed and photographed, he paints a mural in a tower that provides the human face to the horrors of combat. A stranger arrives informing Faulques that he plans to kill him. He blames the photographer for commemorating him as a Croatian resistance fighter during the Serbian conflict when he was captured in a sniper's position. Instead of glory, he feels his life ended with that picture because he knew he could never live up to the fake image. As calm as his visitor is discussing death, Faulques explains his side to his assassin including his seeing his beloved die while they worked a war ravaged nation. THE PAINTER OF BATTLES is a refreshing unique war thriller starring two antagonists who "see" the battles differently. The sniper insists he may kill his enemy with a bullet, but Falques kills much more as his photos affirm a picture is worth a thousand bullets. Their debate spins from just the merits of war to what are atrocities and cruelty and in a war environs can there be real love. Fans will be fascinated by this tale though the action is somewhat muted as the two lead characters provide a deep dissertation on what war is good for and to whom starting with a photographer who became famous by thriving on hostilities. Harriet Klausner
colton36 More than 1 year ago
In my opinion the novel "The Painter of Battles" was slow to start but grew with intensity towards the end. the story is of a painter named falques, who lives on the coast in spain in an old lighthouse. the painter is interupted when he is accompanied by a stranger who claims he had taken a photograph of years before. The stranger says he has come to kill falques, and through the rest of the story he is haunted by the presence of this stranger. I liked the book because i felt as though it expressed a great element of surprise and mystery, at one point it is intense and ery, and at another point the novel is very colorful with stories of war. Even though i did like this novel i had a little trouble reading it, because of the large words used in mr.Perez-Reverte's literature. i would recomend this book to anyone who enjoys history
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is by far the darkest of Perez-Reverte's novels. Reading the list of wars that he's covered in his lifetime I can understand why. One of my thoughts while reading this was that maybe it would be of value to returning Iraq war vets.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Author Arturo Perez-Reverte never gets too far away from a photojournalist's eye for detail, and a reporter's knack for cutting straight to the chase. His latest book, THE PAINTER OF BATTLES, proves this once again. The storyline is unexpectedly gripping in such a psychological book. For quite a bit of the action is through the haunted memories of two men. But then the three main characters are strong enough to make it all work. For Olvido, Ivo, and Andres are believable, particularly in each of their own kinds of tragedy.