A(nother) Review: The Labyrinth of Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

A story has no beginning and no end, only points of entry.

 

That’s a notion that pops up a few times in The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and it’s one that Zafon himself illustrates a few times within the whole series – The Cemetery of Forgotten Books – that began with The Shadow of the Wind.

 

The plot of this pretty chunky tome (over eight hundred pages) concerns Alicia Gris, a cross between a vigilante, private investigator and assassin who is instructed to solve the disappearance of Minister Valls, a prominent member of the government who one day got into a car with his bodyguard and was not seen of again.

 

Alicia’s investigation takes her across the country to Barcelona where things start to become a little familiar – at least for people who have read previous books from Zafon.

 

There are four books in the series, the famous one that started it and became one of the bestselling books in the world, The Shadow of the Wind is the only one which I’ve read, and it was fifteen years ago. The amount of books I’ve read since then can only be described as being in the hundreds, if not into four digits, so my memory of Zafon’s Barcelona was sketchy at best.

 

Yet the characters, the city, the atmosphere that Zafon creates all feels familiar, comfortable. Hearing then names of characters like Julian Carax or the bookshop Sempere & Sons took me straight back to Shadow of the Wind.

 

I didn’t remember the plot, but that was ok. The Labyrinth of the Spirits is a standalone novel, made richer for having read one of the previous novels. I’ve not read Book 2 of 3 in the series, but this has made me want to go back and read them, even read The Shadow of the Wind again.

 

On its own, though, I struggled a bit to get into the plot of The Labyrinth of Spirits– the sheer weight of it is off-putting and the jumping around of characters at the beginning is a bit confusing – especially when you’re half remembering some of them from fifteen years ago – but I persisted and I’m glad I did.

 

Once I got into the plot, the story raced along to its conclusion. Or at least one of them.

 

Just as every story has multiple points of entry, it also multiple points of exit. The four novels in this series are all standalone stories, but they’re all part of one bigger story as well, as Zafon himself points out towards the end of the latest addition to the series.

 

Zafon has created a vivid world that has potential to be explored further, but until he does, I’m going to immerse myself back into his backlist.

 

The Labyrinth of the Spirits is published by W&N and is available now

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A(nother) Review – The Love Letter by Lucinda Riley

This might seem a bit of a departure for me, but The Love Letter is a novel I really enjoyed earlier this year, and now as I write the review I googled it to remind myself of some of the finer points.

 

In doing so, I discovered the story behind The Love Letter – originally published as Seeing Double back in 2000 it seems the publisher at the time lost faith in the book and pulled all of the publicity and marketing for it, leading to disappointing sales for the author.

 

The reason for it? Riley has created a fictional version of the Royal Family, in which a journalist stumbles upon a secret that could tear the monarchy apart.

 

It all begins when our journalist – Joanna Haslam – is forced to cover the funeral of a famous actor. Tucked in at the back of the church she befriends an old lady who has snuck into the ceremony.

 

From this moment on Joanna is on a path that will take her into a dangerous world where some parts of the establishment will do anything to keep the secret from coming out.

 

This book wasn’t what I expected it to be at all when I picked it up. I’d never read a Lucinda Riley novel before, but I had pigeon-holed her in my head into writing sentimental love stories and family sagas.

 

That’s a fairly reasonable judgement to make, even the publishers themselves make it – if you take a look at the category on Amazon, it places it in both historical romance and sagas. But this book is much more than that.

 

I found it much more like a thriller with one of those endings that left you flicking through the pages breathless as you barrel towards the ending. One of the best books I’ve read this year, and was good enough to make me consider picking up more by Riley.

 

The Love Letter is available now from Pan

A(nother) Review: Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce

Alison Wood is a QC and has just been handed her first murder. Her career is taking off, but her family life seems to be falling apart. Her daughter seems to prefer her husband – a therapist who works from home – and he seems to be growing distant from her.

 

Not that the latter seems to bother Alison too much, she’s having an affair with Patrick – the solicitor who sent the murder case her way. To muddy the waters a little further, Alison seems to be developing a problem with alcohol.

 

Blood Orange at first glance seems to be like any other psychological thriller, but for me the legal case rooted it back into the more traditional thriller genre. For much of the first half of the book, the two plots are given equal billing and as a result, it’s tough to know where this book is going to go.

 

I like that. I like books that surprise me. Especially when they’re the ones that promise to surprise you. You go into this genre expecting twists, and there’s such a proliferation of these books out there now, that once you’ve read a few, you can see the surprises coming.

 

Not so with Blood Orange. Its balance between traditional thriller and psychological thriller adds an unpredictability that keeps you turning the page all the way throughout.

 

Perhaps not quite as unpredictable, is that that yet again, I’ve reviewed a book that’s not out yet. Blood Orange is due to be published in Hardback in February 2019 – so you’ll have to wait a little while for it – but hey, it gives you something to look forward to after Christmas, hey?

 

And it’s worth the wait – this could well be the sleeper hit of 2019.

 

Blood Orange is published by Wildfire early next year