One of the jobs to which I’ve never considered myself a worthy applicant is that of a book shop owner. Or even working in a book shop. You see, I don’t think I’d actually put in all that much quality working time, and I know that I would spend my entire paycheck on new books. But it is very interesting to read how the son of a book shop owner turned into an investigator to help his friend. The Prisoner of Heaven is a tale of a man concerned with his marriage, his job, and his best friend. But more so, it is the story of a man finding out the truth of the past, the truth of the present and the hope for his future. Carlos Ruis Zafon has elegantly woven an incredibly emotional story with a powerful mystery that leaves the reader waiting for more.
In The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruis Zafon, Daniel Sempere agonizes over his marriage, assists his father in making their book shop for financially sound, but he spends most his time acting as an investigator on a mystery which involves his best friend Fermin. Set in Spain, this work is interesting to me off the cuff on place alone – Spain is one of those countries that I like to think I would’ve visited if I had ever done a session studying abroad. We find Daniel Sempere working in his father’s book shop and living in the apartment above it with his wife. His best friend Fermin also works in the shop, and when a mysterious stranger with lots of money comes in and leaves a message for Fermin, Daniel begins his work as an amateur detective. The story that he unravels is filled with pain, confusion, sadness, a lost fortune, a lost writer, and more turns than Daniel ever expected. Blood is shed with little sympathy, lives are lost, but the love and friendship that began the story carries through. For me, the resolution was less than complete – but the book is in a series called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. While each novel is capable of standing alone, together they complete their resolutions.
The most incredible part of this work is the complex emotions that, while only written on paper, become almost palpable to the reader. There were times when I did not want to continue reading – such as when we learned of Fermin’s imprisonment and the horrendous treatment to which the prisoners were subjected. It was not for lack of storyline or poor writing, it was the way the writing made the emotions so real that some of the pages of my copy are now tear-stained. I laughed with him, I cried with him, but the most amazing part is that I felt every emotion with the main characters. I wish I could find a perfect quote without spoiling the work, but at this point I’ve not yet found one. I suppose you’ll have to trust me on this – be ready to feel when you read this book.
The mystery in the story – that of the life of Fermin – is a well-developed story in itself. Fermin is anxious to marry his bride, but he worries that he will not be permitted to do so because of his past. And so Daniel, loyal friend that he is, begins to put together the puzzle that was Fermin’s life. He is follows the mystery as it unravels, learning more about himself and his family than he could have foreseen. It’s a story that is tying together the threads left open from the other books in the series – The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game, but it’s still able to stand on its own. While you know that not everything is being answered and there are some cliffhangers waiting for you to read further, it’s still worthy of a read on its own.
After the emotion and the compelling mystery, the most important factor of the book when I read it was the threads that were left to be woven into a complete story. Yes, it’s capable of standing on its own, but it really feels as though it’s a book that should be read with the others. A reader doesn’t have a specific order to read all the books, but it isn’t a complete tale until the rest are read. For me, that’s a push to read the rest of the books and I don’t mind, but a reader who is not looking to be dropped into a series now probably wouldn’t enjoy it. There are times when you’re ready for a series and times when you’re not, and I would recommend reading The Prisoner of Heaven and Zafon’s other works together as a series.
I’m a semi-serious history fan, as you may have seen in some of my other book reviews, but the truth is that I don’t know much about history. So when I have a work of fiction that can at least fill in some of the blanks like Perla or The Prisoner of Heaven, it’s something that I can enjoy. I know that fiction isn’t known for the accurate portrayal of history, but I can still appreciate it because I don’t know what really happened, I’ve never studied, and I think it’s a subject that I might find worthy of study if a novel has brought it to my attention. The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruis Zafon is a novel that intrigues a reader to follow-up on its counterparts, catches a reader intensely in emotion, and provides a small history lesson in the form of a mystery. It’s a worthy read.
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Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher to facilitate my review. My opinions are honest and my own.
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