Review: Carlos Ruiz Zafón – The Prisoner of Heaven

When Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón was published in 2001 it became an instant best-seller around the world. I thought the book excellent but was slightly disappointed by the follow-up The Angel’s Game. The third book in the series The Prisoner of Heaven was released this month and left me with mixed feelings although, as I would expect from this author, it was a very engaging read.

The book opens in 1957 and the Barcelona bookshop owned by Daniel Sempere and his father is struggling to make a profit. A stranger enters and buys one of the most expensive books in the shop, Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. Before he leaves he inscribes in the book a message to Fermín Romero de Torres, an employee of the bookshop, who was once imprisoned in Montjuic Castle for his involvement in an anarchist plot. The narrative then relates Fermín’s story. How he was arrested, his escape involving a plot similar to that of Dumas’s book and his attempts to evade capture in the intervening period. Fermín tells his story to Daniel, who has his own troubles. Married to the beautiful Bea, with a young son, he is racked with jealousy when he discovers a letter from Bea’s old boyfriend.

I finished this book over a week ago and it’s taken me this long to do my review because I felt I needed time to reflect on the book. Many of the elements that I love about this author are there. The atmospheric depiction of1950s Barcelona, the wonderful second-hand bookshop that you are just dying to visit and of course the diverse cast of characters. What I felt let down by, however, was the plot. Zafón’s narratives are not linear but involve shifting between periods not only within a book but within the series. The Angel’s Game for example is a prequel to Shadow of the Wind, and The Prisoner of Heaven, something of a hybrid of the two. This wouldn’t matter so much if the quality of the whole was there. However, The Prisoner of Heaven has the feeling of a book on its journey to a sequel and far to many of the plot lines remain unresolved.

I don’t mean to suggest it wasn’t an enjoyable read as this isn’t the case. The characterisation in particular was wonderful, from the lovable Fermín to the evil governor in charge of the prison castle. And like his fellow countryman, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, there is an otherworldliness to Zafón’s books which I enjoy. So, I haven’t given up on this writer but hope that the next book will be more complete in its entirety.

The book has also been reviewed by The Guardian and Book Reporter.

9 thoughts on “Review: Carlos Ruiz Zafón – The Prisoner of Heaven

  1. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – A thoughtful and well-written review! I’m already intrigued by the atmosphere and setting. But I think you’ve got a good point about wanting to feel a sense of closure, for lack of a better word, about a book. Stories across stories can work when they’re done well, but I agree that the story that is the focus of the novel should be whole within that novel. Still, those characters and that setting are sooooo appealing!


  2. I tried one of his books once, but not my cup of tea. This is a very good review, but perhaps if I do try him again I’ll go for Prisoner of the Wind. The last book I read about a bookshop was very poor – The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard, started very well but was all about magic and other supernatural tomfoolery/ancient history. Pity, as I love books about books/bookshops. (Which reminds me of another one, that on the contrary I enjoyed a lot, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield).


      1. I haven’t read either of the books you mentioned. I’ll look out for ‘The Thirteenth Tale’. I intend to pay a long overdue visit to Derbyshire libraries today.


  3. Pingback: Book Review: Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Prisoner of Heaven - Opinionless

  4. Pingback: The Best of July’s Reading « crimepieces

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