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A Very Private Gentleman: A Novel Hardcover – January 26, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Booth's brilliantly creepy psychological suspense novel follows a so-called "shadow-dweller" (a technical weapons expert who creates and supplies the tools for high-level assassins) to a rural village in southern Italy where he poses as "Signor Farfalla," a quiet artist who paints miniatures of butterflies and has traveled to the area to capture a unique native specimen. As the artist, whose real name is Clark, settles into the local scene, most of his new acquaintances accept his enigmatic alias, with the notable exception of Father Benedetto, the priest who pushes him to reveal himself in a series of confessional conversations over glasses of Armagnac. Between painting the minutely detailed butterfly studies and preparing for his next job, Clark carouses with a pair of local prostitutes, Dindina and Clara, eventually slipping into a serious affair with the latter. As he gets weapons specs and begins constructing a new gun, he learns that his latest customer is a woman whose next target may be Yasser Arafat. Suddenly he senses another "shadow-dweller" on his trail; this anonymous figure remains a mystery to Clark until their climactic showdown. The lazy, languid setting is an eerily effective backdrop for the fresh and beguiling murder intrigue, and the flashbacks into Clark's cold, brutal past are cleverly juxtaposed against his budding romance with young, naive Clara. With first-rate characters and a gradual buildup of suspense, Booth constructs his most focused, tightly written novel to date, reminiscent of William Trevor's classic Felicia's Journey and the late Patricia Highsmith's Ripley novels.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Those in the Italian village where he currently lives call him Sr. Farfalle--Mr. Butterfly--but he never reveals his real name. He has few friends, only business contacts. He is constantly on the move and always watching his back. He considers himself an artisan, not for the butterflies he paints as his cover but for the guns he creates for cunning assassins. He sees nothing wrong with what he does and feels he has helped shape history. But he is getting older and promises himself that his current job will be his last. Then, perhaps, he can settle down comfortably in the Italian village he has grown to love and enjoy the remainder of his life without constantly looking over his shoulder for the "shadow-dwellers" who are always there, waiting for him to slip up. Haunting, shocking, and tense, Booth's story is a charismatic blend of psychological thriller, vivid drama, searing morality tale, and profound psychological study. His writing is crisp yet lyrical, simple yet intelligent. Readers looking for thought-provoking literary fiction can't do any better than this. Emily Melton
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (January 26, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312309082
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312309084
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,175,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on February 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
If Martin Booth's new novel A VERY PRIVATE GENTLEMAN is a bestseller, expect Italy to become a highly popular tourist destination. His narrator, an international criminal, spends the novel alternately enticing you to join him high in the Italian Apennines and cautiously warning you from trying to find him.
The novel's setting, a small, unnamed, rural Italian village, is exquisite and exquisitely rendered. Booth takes time to describe precisely and poetically the old wine shop run by a maniacal dwarf and an obedient giant, the ancient apothecary whose floorboards have absorbed centuries of spills, and the historic piazzas that inspire nothing but nonchalance in the townspeople who visit them every day.
Clarke, which is not the narrator's real name but an alias, poses as a painter of butterflies, a Nabokovian occupation that allows for such eccentricities as long absences, erratic behavior, and no set schedule. So he often lounges and partakes of local delicacies --- the wine, the home-smoked prosciutto, his two mistresses, all of which he describes in tantalizing detail --- while he practices his true calling. Clarke's real profession is much more sinister than painting insects, although equally artistic. He doesn't reveal it until almost 100 pages in, but hints, "I am the salesman of death ... I do not cause it. I merely arrange for its delivery. I am death's booking-clerk, death's bellhop."
Despite his obsession with privacy and death, Clarke is an endlessly entertaining narrator, and his insights into the international underworld and the human condition are intriguing. "Everyone is a terrorist," he observes. "Everyone carries a gun in his heart. Most do not fire simply because they have no cause to pursue.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Francis K. Kwok on September 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I read Lawrence Bloch's Hitman series and I though this would be the European version, but was I wrong! The Bloch books focused in more on the witty comments and action between Keller and his handler.

Booth's book is focused on a previously unknown aspect of a high profile assissination (I won't spoil it for you) that no one really thinks about before.

The main character, Mr. Buttefly, is well written and complex as is the plot. I never could guess where the next chapter would lead, much less the book. The other supporting cast are equally enthralling and layered.

This book reminds of a cross between A Year in Provence and A John LeCarre spy novel.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Genise Clark on September 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As a writer I have a intense love for books. I picked this book up at the library. The title interest me only because it contrasted the illustration of the book. When viewing the title I thought it immediately would be a love story. However, I immediately realize that a man was holding a gun and only part of his face could be shown. I begin reading the book. I came to love Mr. Butterfly. He seemed so complicated. At first it seems he is content with not having a true identity or noone with whom he can trust. However, the longer he stays in the Italian countryside the longer he realized that he wants something more. He finally got the chance to see what life would be like if he just settled. He could paint butterflies, sit at the bar with trustworthy neighbors, have intimate talks with his friend the priest, and fall in love with the beautiful young woman. Though his past and most important one of his "mistakes" ends up threatening his future. I have read too many books and realized how story like this end. What happens to the character. Time again I asked myself why am I still reading this. When I got to the end I realized the answer. Booth's language captivated me. Page by Page I waited for the inevitable yet hoping it would not happen. I loved this book, even in the the last sentence he leaves you wanting more. Not only for the story, but also for the character. I was intrugued by how the character was formed and most importantly his profession.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Steve VINE VOICE on July 21, 2012
Format: Paperback
Martin Booth's "A Very Private Gentlemen," also published as "The American" to coincide with the movie of the same name, is a methodical first person narrative on humanity, the value of life, the absurdity in our behavior, death's inevitability, and the daily battle to survive despite Booth's quite sour disposition on life. At times misanthropic, other times resigned and morose, and yet other times hopeful, it is insightful and honest.

Known by the locals as Sr. Farfalle/Mr. Butterfly, the narrator is a hit-man/weapons craftsman who is beginning a new assignment which has taken him to the remote Italian countryside. The story unfolds from his narrative; his constant state of awareness/paranoia (much less frantic than Clooney's portrayal in the movie), the daily routines of his life in the small town, tales of his previous adventures, evocative passages about the beauty of Italy, and the details of his craft. Thankfully, there are conversations between Sr. Farfalle and his small circle of acquaintances, most specifically Father Benedetto and the prostitute Clara that provide welcome respite. These are oases in the novel, to be sure because the author's accounting of his life, work, and personal philosophies can get tedious at times. They start out as visual appealing, acutely observant, and at times even amusing in their simmering cynicism, but after a while shades of smugness appear. Booth is a good writer but his erudite nature sometimes interferes with the pleasure of the story.

If you came to this novel from the movie (as I did), you already have an idea of the methodical nature of the tale; so the lack of page-turning excitement shouldn't surprise you or disappoint you too much.
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