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The Prisoner of Heaven – Carlos Ruiz Zafon: A Review

November 9, 2013



After I’d bought, read and enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s 2005 bestseller and the first installment of the “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books” series, I immediately went out and bought the book that had originally drawn me to Zafon’s writing – The Prisoner of Heaven.

Despite being the third installment in the series, the story opens almost where The Shadow of the Wind leaves off, in the Sempere & Sons bookshop in Barcelona. Daniel and Bea are married, and have a young son together, and Fermin Romero de Torres is preparing for his own wedding to Bernada. However, their happiness is soon disrupted. One day, a stranger visits the bookshop and buys a very expensive edition of The Count of Monte Cristo. However, instead of taking it away, he inscribes it to, and leaves it for, Fermin. What follows leads to the unravelling of Fermin’s mysterious past, how he came to be imprisoned in the notorious Montjuic prison, and how his fellow inmate, David Martin, lead him to the Sempere family, and to Daniel. The Prisoner of Heaven is ostensibly Fermin’s book, his story, much more than it is about Daniel Sempere.

Although I enjoyed The Prisoner of Heaven, I’d be lying if I said that Fermin’s character wasn’t grating on me. Even though the story of his imprisonment is heart-wrenching and his treatment beyond human comprehension, I just could not set aside an image in my head that I have of him as a greasy, slimy, rat-like man who at the end of the day, for all his actions show how trustworthy he is, you’re still expecting to stab those who have generously bestowed that trust in the back. I don’t like him.

The plot is generally sound. The degree of mystery and different leads for the reader to figure out and solve wasn’t the same as in The Shadow of the Wind, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – after all, how would anyone cope with a life that threw all-consuming mystery after all-consuming mystery at them? The only real weakness for me was the link that led Fermin to the Semperes – a promise to a virtual stranger that he met in prison. A tenuous link and an obvious device joining the first three installments together, but I’ll let it go.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s writing is, again, impeccable. He paces the story fantastically well in a way that I am coming to expect from him, and the way he weaves his books together to form a single enriched narrative, apart from the tenuous link already mentioned, is really quite spectacular.

I should also make clear that I’m reading the “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books” series out of order and the second installment, The Angel’s Game, a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind that I understand tells the story of David Martin, is still on my ‘to-read’ list. Although Zafon says in his introduction to The Prisoner of Heaven that each of his books is meant to stand alone, and there is no need to read them in the order they were written, that I have read the first and third installments before the second is bound to make the way I view the story so far different to if I had read each installment in order.

I enjoyed The Prisoner of Heaven immensely and read it very quickly by my standards (3 days). I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has read any of Zafon’s other writing and enjoyed it. A good read.

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