Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Something for the top of your reading pile

Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind is one of my favorite of the many good literary thrillers. Set in post-war Barcelona, it is a tragic, sad mystery centered on a love story and the love of books. His most recent book, the Angels Game, is a much more conventional than the first book, with a simple structure, a familiar plot and familiar characters. It is a testament to Ruiz Zafon's great strengths as a writer that this book is just as an enthralling as the first book. I may even like it better and plan to re-read Shadow of the Wind to be sure.

The main character, David Martin, works at a newspaper thanks to the help of a wealthy benefactor. He begins to write lurid potboilers for the paper and finds a following. He gains a number of successes as a writer and attracts a mysterious patron who wants him to write a special book. The writing of the book and his purchase of a dark, forbidding house begin a spiral into a tale worthy of his own dark stories. There is much more of course, including the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a few love stories, and tragedies aplenty.

As I mentioned the plot veers closely to familiar territory. At more than one point, I thought I was re-reading another thriller. This isn't the case, although the similarities are often great. I was happy to look past this thanks to the wonderful writing. Ruiz Zafon's prose is densely atmospheric and he sets up a wonderfully gothic story that has its fair share of surprises. The characters themselves provide impressive surprises. While he follows thriller formula in terms of pacing, he uses pace to drive the story and to excite, not to distract from plot holes or the absence of characters.

I used to grouse that this guy was never going to write another book, it took so long between the two. I am happy for him to take this long if the book will be this good.

I should note that much of my enjoyment of the book, originally written in Spanish, is due to what seems to me to be a fantastic translation. The book reads as if it were written in English, a tribute to the skills of Lucia Graves, the book's English translator.

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