The Fencing Master started off pretty slowly for me. There's quite a bit in the first half of the book about Spanish politics and power grabs, a lot about monarchists and revolutionaries, and I didn't find much of this to be very interesting. Enter Doña Adela de Otero. With her introduction into the story everything shifted.
The last half of the book proved itself to be a pretty good murder mystery/intrigue which made everything in the first half of the book relevant. I ended up feeling like the way the mystery unfolded in The Fencing Master was a lot more realistic than the way mysteries typically present themselves in stories from the mystery genre. Often times when big things happen to us we have merely been going about our business, sleepwalking through our lives, just trying to get by from sunrise to sunset. Don Jaime Astarloa is doing precisely this as mayhem explodes around his carefully sterile, proper life. The events that unfold test Don Jaime's strengths and weaknesses, his morals and convictions. He learns about himself and gains insight into what is right with him and what is wrong with him. In short, although this was a literary mystery, it was more than just a whodunit. The Fencing Master was foremost a story of a life.