"Private Gentleman" Presents an Elegant Study of Character

Post date: Feb 21, 2014 8:21:24 PM

A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth

Written by the late British author Martin Booth, this novel was published in 1990 under the original title, A Very Private Gentleman. The title was changed to The American when the book was reissued following the debut of the movie by that name.

The name change, however, is just about the only thing that links the book and the movie, though the latter was inspired by the former. The film is an action thriller with lots of violence. The novel is a carefully crafted character study of an aging man trying to explain his not too saintly life.

This very private gentleman is known to the people of the small Italian mountain village where he lives only as Signor Farfala (Italian for butterfly) because he paints intricate portraits of the butterflies that live in the mountains. We never learn his real name, but we do learn his true profession—he designs handcrafted guns for international assassins. Over the decades, he boasts, his weapons have changed history, for better or worst, with a simple squeeze of a trigger.

Despite the pride he takes in his job, Farfala knows it is time for him to retire. He has grown fond of the Italian village where he lives, and can see himself settling down there for good. He also has a comely young student and part-time prostitute, Clara, who is in love with him.

Farfala accepts a job to make a rifle for an unknown client, his last assignment before retiring. But his plans for retirement become threatened when a "shadow dweller" appears in the village and begins stalking him. The novel ends with a brilliant twist and the only shoot-out in the whole book.

If you are looking for an action thriller, this is not the book for you. If you are looking for an elegantly written and engaging study of a man trying to justify his place on earth, you'll find this book as enjoyable as I did.