When Charles Dickens’s first sketch was published "in all the glory of print" in 1833 the young writer recalled that he "walked down to Westminster Hall, and turned into it for half an hour, because my eyes were so dimmed with joy and pride, that they could not bear the street, and were not fit to be seen there". It is the same with Martin: "A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story".
The Angel's Game is a book about books. When Martin begins his career, he writes Grand Guignol in the style of Alexandre Dumas, Bram Stoker and Eugène Sue. Indeed the very title of his bloodcurdling series, The Mysteries of Barcelona is a tribute to Sue's long-forgotten Mysteries of Paris (1842): "A man walking under cover of shadows with blood on his hands and a secret in his eyes".
But the key background text is Great Expectations. The son of an illiterate soldier whose mother has long since departed for a more genteel life as a shop assistant, Martin finds his spiritual home with Isaac Sempere, a bookseller. It is Sempere who presents him with his first precious copy of Dickens. Martin sets himself up in a ruined tower house overlooking the city where there is a Miss Havisham-style rotting feast still set out, abandoned by the inhabitants. Then he receives messages about his "great expectations" from a mysterious patron who goes under the initials A. C. Like Magwitch, A. C. turns out to be more curse than promise.
If you know your 19th-century melodrama there are pleasures in this novel, but readers with other penchants will be taken, too. There are Dan Brown puzzles and Mean Street realisms, there are quirky contemplative philosophies and — best of all — intriguing aphorisms: "Envy is the religion of the mediocre"; "You end up becoming what you see in the eyes of those you love".
As befits a text about texts, one of the best scenes takes place in "the cemetery of forgotten books". From here Martin takes the random collection in many languages that will frame the new book he writes for his patron. But this is also a clue. As aficionados will know, The Angel's Game is a prequel to Zafón's hit of 2001, "The Shadow of the Wind". The cemetery featured there too.
Noticia publicada en TimesOnLine