Friday, November 9, 2012

Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “The Angel’s Game”

To read a book by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is to  have an almost complete experience in literary suspense. His stories have intriguing and riveting plots; wounded, imperfect heroes; numerous references to books, and a bookstore connected in some way.

And Barcelona, which in Ruiz Zafon’s hands becomes a city of mystery, intrigue, and death, becomes almost a main character in his stories.

So it was with his wildly successful The Shadow of the Wind (2005). So it is with The Angel’s Game (2010).

David Martin is a writer. Orphaned by the abandonment of his mother and murder of his father, he is taken under the wing of a local bookstore owner. He becomes a kind of office boy at a newspaper, and then is given the opportunity to write what a century ago (when the story is set) were known as “penny dreadfuls,” lurid stories and tales printed in newspapers which were usually more fiction than fact.

He eventually goes on to write a series of the same kinds of stories but in book form, for a rather dubious publisher. He rents an old, long abandoned, and there he lives writing his popular stories, until he meets Andreas Correlli. Corelli is a publisher from Paris, and wants Martin to write a “religion.” And he dangles unheard of amounts of money in front of the writer. When Martin explains he’s under a long-term exclusive contract with his publisher, Correlli nods. And shortly after, the two main principals at the publishing firm are murdered. The contract becomes null and void, and Martin accepts Corelli’s offer.

Then people start to die. Police detectives get involved, and Martin seems to be the prime suspect.

The more Martin writes, the more he discovers unsettling things about his publisher, the house he lives in, and what happened to the people who lived there. The book Martin is writing has been written before, and the authors died violent deaths.

Ruiz Zafon delightfully thickens the plot with two love interests, Cristina, the love of Martin’s heart, and Isabella, the young girl who wants to be a writer.

And the story has books, always books, floating in and out of conversations. No book plays as important a role in the story as Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, except for the one serious book Martin has written, disparaged by his news paper critic friends and finding its way into a hidden library of lost books.

The Angel’s Game is an enthralling, often chilling read, and even manages to raise questions about writing and the creation of books along the way.

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