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Monday 30 July 2012

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I've been lucky enough to be a reviewer for New Books Magazine for some years now, and was delighted to receive a copy of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's latest instalment in his series of novels featuring the mysterious Cemetery of Lost Books set in Barcelona.

The Prisoner of Heaven was published by Orion Books on 21 June 2012 and is the third in the series, following The Shadow of the Wind (October 2005) and The Angel's Game (April 2010).

It is just before Christmas 1957 in Barcelona.  Daniel Sempere and Bea are now married and have a small son Julian.

The bookshop Sempere and Son is struggling along and their friend Fermin is preparing to marry Bernarda.  It is the appearance of a stranger, out of the shadows, that thrusts these characters back into the murky depths of the past and back to the Cemetery of Lost Books.

The Prisoner of Heaven is Firmin's story.  As he at last reveals the truth about his background to Daniel, the reader is transported to the prison cells of Mountjuic castle - the place where Franco's followers would incarcerate, torture and later 'dispose' of political enemies.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon's writing is atmospheric, descriptive and totally compelling.  His words draw such solid pictures in the head of the reader that the sounds, sights and smells of underground Barcelona jump from the page.

The dark gothic feel of the city is wonderfully drawn, and his characters are so realistic that they become friends of the reader by the end of the story.

Although Ruiz Zafon assures readers that each of the books in this series can be read as stand-alone stories, I would recommend that they are read in the order that they are written.  Personally, I think anyone new to the series would struggle to fully enjoy and follow The Prisoner of Heaven without having read at least one of the previous instalments, not least because it is so much shorter than the others.

For me, The Prisoner of Heaven is yet another triumph from Ruiz Zafon, lively and full of dark humour and an almost perfect cast of characters.  My one complaint is that it is too short, I wanted more than the 278 pages offered by the hardback edition and only hope that we don't have to wait for too long for the final book of the series.

My thanks, as always to the team at New Books Magazine for sending my copy for review.

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