Now in paperback – £7.99
There aren’t enough novels with booksellers as heroes, so it’s heartening to meet the staff of Sempere & Sons in 1950s Barcelona. The Prisoner of Heaven (£12.99, paperback) is the third novel in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, following bestsellers The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game. You can read them in any order though this latest instalment abounds with teasing hints of previous adventures; Zafon’s shadowy novels specialise in stories within stories, books within books.
Part one begins almost cosily with ‘A Christmas Story’ as the bookshop prepares for the festive trade in 1957. It’s a little whimsical, with the promise of a mystery, but then the narrative shifts abruptly into a shocking prison drama depicting the apparatus and bloodthirsty lieutenants of the burgeoning fascist state in 1939. It’s a shorter novel than the previous books and, at its conclusion, the reader might reasonably anticipate further episodes featuring these characters. What sets Zafon apart from other international bestselling authors is the simple, inventive style: even as the suspenseful narrative is powering ahead, he indulges in a winning self-awareness about the art of storytelling, with nods to literary forebears such as The Count of Monte Cristo. Just like the average bookseller – heroic or otherwise – there’s more to this novel than meets the eye.