Carlos Ruiz Zafón's continues to pay homage to the penny dreadful tradition in the third book of his bestselling series
In his multimillion-selling debut, The Shadow of the Wind, and its sequel, The Angel's Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafón affectionately revived the traits of the penny dreadful, refining them into a gothic tale of lost books, beautiful women and sinister, diabolical villains.
The Prisoner of Heaven is the third part of the story and, like the first, is narrated by bookseller Daniel Sempere. But it too contains stories within stories, and the real narrative here belongs to the irrepressible Fermín Romero de Torres, who tells Daniel the secrets of his time as a prisoner in Barcelona's infamous Montjuïc castle, where dissidents were "disappeared" by Franco's regime. "The Prisoner of Heaven" was the nickname of a fellow inmate, the writer David Martín (also the narrator of The Angel's Game). Through Fermín, Daniel learns a dreadful secret concerning his own mother's death, and discovers that he has a mortal enemy.
Zafón's characters and dialogue are as lively and full-blooded as ever, but it is hard to escape the sense that this novel is slighter than its predecessors. By ending on a cliffhanger, he is paying homage to the Victorian serialised novel, but it does leave the reader somewhat frustrated.
Books are precious objects in the gothic world of Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón. His elaborate series, The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, features a large library of old texts preserved by a secret society and follows the fortunes of the Sempere family, proprietors of a secondhand bookshop in 1950s Barcelona. Beginning with The Shadow of the Wind, an international best-seller translated into more than 50 languages, Zafón then produced the prequel, The Angel's Game. The third installment in the proposed four-book saga, The Prisoner of Heaven, is now available in English. At the Sempere bookshop, an unknown man seeks to buy a rare edition of The Count of Monte Cristo and threatens to reveal a decades-old secret. Zafón shares his favorite books about books.