The Prisoner of Heaven / Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Toronto: HarperCollins, c2012
This is the third book in Ruiz Zafon's projected 4 book series which began with The Shadow of the Wind -- a book I enjoyed when it first came out. The second book, The Angel's Game, was a little different from the first stylistically, and so is this third installment.
The Prisoner of Heaven feels somehow lighter than the others in tone, despite the dark violent past it presents. There is not so much focus on books -- it begins at Christmas in the Sempere bookshop, and is quite amusing. Daniel and Fermin are humouring the elder Sempere as he decides to set up a creche scene in the front window in hopes of drawing in more shoppers.
When Daniel is alone, however, a new customer appears...a very ominous one who overpays for the most expensive book in the shop -- an illustrated copy of The Count of Monte Cristo -- then inscribes it to Fermin and leaves it there for him. This rattles Fermin, who then proceeds to tell Daniel all about his past.
The flashbacks to Fermin's past in a notorious prison of Fascist Spain, and how he escapes, are dark (with shadings of Monte Cristo!) There is violence and horror and despair involved. Grotesque descriptions of torture and of sadism abound. At times I felt queasy and skipped over some descriptions. And yet, Fermin keeps his head, and befriends a writer imprisoned in the next cell over, David Martin, who is busily writing a book called, you guessed it, The Angel's Game.
All this self-referential talk leads to this book's position as both a sequel and a prequel to the previous two books. The storylines are intertwining so tightly that the books are happening more simultaneously than sequentially. It's quite a feat.
Fermin is able to fill in some of the blanks for Daniel, about his own past and his mother's fate. And as the stories close, Fermin is able to return to happiness and marry his Bernarda in peace. Even so, the end of the story brings the appearance of Daniel's cousin, a dead ringer for his mother. And we just know that she will play a role in the next and final book.
Fortunately, near the end of this story we do get a glimpse into the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Fermin is awed by Daniel's introduction and befriends the keeper, old Isaac, immediately. How fortuitous that Isaac is thinking of retiring...
This was an enjoyable read and a good addition to the set. While I liked the first two better for their depth and overwhelmingly bookish atmosphere, this one adds to the storyline and reveals new details about the characters. If you're a Ruiz Zafon fan, you will definitely want to read this one. If you haven't read him yet, do begin with Shadow of the Wind.
(read the opening of Prisoner of Heaven here)