A dark, soon-to-become-spooky aura settles around the reader as the narrator, David Martin, begins his chilling tale in the dusty offices of a Barcelona newspaper in Carlos Ruis Zafon’s second novel (a prequel to his first, The Shadow of the Wind).
As David rises from office boy to crime novelist, mysterious events begin to unravel around him, and the reader, like David himself, is never quite sure where the line blurs between reality and the phantasmagoric.
In Barcelona of the 1920s, the stage is set with dark alleyways, rambling bungalows and strange characters who walk out of the mist and never once blink an eyelid — it’s Zafon’s tribute to Charles Dickens (Great Expectations is also David’s most cherished possession).
</b2>Under the patronage of Barcelona’s rich bachelor Pedro Vidal, David gets a chance to write fast-paced, blood-curdling stories on a weekly basis for the local paper. His fame wins him a treat by France-based publisher Andreas Corelli to an erotic night in a high-end brothel, with a woman who’s an exact replica of his fictitious heroine. But when David returns to the brothel a few days later, he learns that it actually had burnt down 30 years ago. By now you’re already at the edge of your seat, wondering whether David’s hallucinating and Zafon is playing with your imagination. Once David moves into his cursed home with locked doors and a depressing history of mysterious deaths that coincide with incidents in David’s life — you’re hooked till the bitter end.
The almost-happy ending with his childhood love Cristina, days of domestic bliss with young Isabella, The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and the mystery around Andreas Corelli keep the plot moving. But it’s Zafon’s writing — poetic, dramatic and profound —that’s the best part. It’s a potboiler written with the finesse of a great work of art.