This is a review of The Prisoner of Heaven, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and is my first book with HarperCollins (as you can see from the title of the blog, I believe that you can never say the same thing too many times!). Although it's not an ARC (Prisoner came out in early July), HarperCollins is trying to build a buzz. And I am happy to help with that buzz. This is a very good book. It's the 3rd book in the same series but is advertised as not being in any particular order. I haven't read either of the first 2 (The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game), but I never felt like I was missing any vital background. I have not heard of many of the authors that HarperCollins makes available to us bloggers. But if this one is any indicator, then I will be reading many more.
Daniel Sempere works in the bookstore in Barcelona that was started by his great-grandfather in 1888. He has a wife and young son, and they live above the shop. He and his father have one employee, Fermin Romero de Torres (there's supposed to be an accent ague over the "i"), who is in his '40's and who is very close to both Daniel and Daniel's father. Adding to the activity surrounding the bookstore, Fermin is planning on being married in a couple of months. The story begins around Christmastime, 1957. The store is on the brink of disaster from a cash flow standpoint. One afternoon, Daniel's father and Fermin both have occasion to leave the store. While they're gone, a strange old man, who appears homeless, comes in and buys a very expensive book and pays with way too much cash. He leaves a cryptic message for Fermin - and so it begins.
As Fermin's story unfolds, we head back to 1939 and pick up Fermin's history. It switches from 1939 to 1957. I loved the back-and-forth. In fact, one of my favorite books, Back Bay by William Martin (this reminds me that I forgot to put that in Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader - that will go into #5), goes from the present (1992) back-and-forth to Revolutionary times. It's the story of a lost tea set made by Paul Revere (do we all remember that Revere was a silversmith - hm, do we?). Back Bay, which is in the greater Boston area, is the backdrop for this novel. It's darn good.
But I digress. Fermin's story is told in detail, but Zafon keeps us guessing (at least me, although I'm quite often a little slow to catch on) as to how it relates to both the old man that Daniel met in the shop and Fermin himself. Both stories, the one in 1939 and the one in 1957, are interesting and kept me engaged throughout. By the time I figured it out, it's late in the book, and everything comes together. I thought it was very well done, and I would definitely read his books moving forward. In fact, I might be tempted to read his first 2 as well, although trying to fit those in might be too daunting a task.
2 other notes about the book: First, the title of the book refers to David Martin (another accent ague over the "i"), who is in prison with Fermin and who is a renowned author. There's a fairly good-sized sub-plot surrounding Martin and the warden. And, second, all 3 books (a trilogy? - I'm not sure since the books can be read independently - what's the definition of a trilogy, anyway?) center on the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This is a place where the most famous books of the region are stored and made available only to a chosen few. Unfortunately, this repository comes into the picture very late in the book, so I still don't know how it fits into the other 2.
Having said all of that (in my typical overblown way), I say go for The Prisoner of Heaven.
SHOUT-OUT TO TRANSLATOR: Zafon writes his books in Spanish. Lucia Graves translated this one. I don't know if she did the first 2, but I think she did a heckuva job with this one.