The third installment in a planned quartet of novels from Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Prisoner of Heaven has been on my wishlist for a while now (see here for a full round-up). It’s predecessors, The Shadow of the Wind and The Angels Game were both gripping reads, so my expectations when it came to this book were understandably high. That said, it’s not necessary to have read the books in order, so if you haven’t read the others, it doesn’t take anything away from this one.
The Prisoner of Heaven tells the story of Fermin Romero de Torres – mentioned in previous novels but coming to a forefront here. Imprisoned in horrifying conditions by the regime during the Spanish Civil War, Fermin crosses paths with some of the most detestable and terrifying figures of the Spanish authority. Condemned to a prison where so called ‘enemies of the state’ are sent to die, his fellow cell mates and gaolers are varying degrees of crazy and intensely dangerous.
To survive, Fermin must put his trust in a man whose sanity is increasingly called into question, a brilliant but eccentric writer named David Martin. The words that pass between them and the pact they make within the prison walls will continue to reverberate for years to come. When a man from his past arrives on his doorstep, Fermin is forced to confront his worst memories and to relive a previous life. And as his story comes to light, it becomes clear that the past never truly stays in the past.
As with all of Zafon’s previous works, The Prisoner of Heaven is beautifully written and creates a brilliantly dark and realistic vision of post-war Spain. But ultimately what he does so well is to capture the magic and the mystery of the unknown. The skill with which he writes invites the reader to make their own connections, to see the scene as it continues to play out on the pages and to draw their own conclusions.
For me, The Prisoner of Heaven lacked some of the magic of Zafon’s previous novels. While it started off very much in the dark gothic vein that we’ve come to know him for, it soon diverged into a more straightforward, but no less sinister, plot. Still, there’s no denying that Zafon is a master storyteller, weaving together narratives to create a story with just the right amount of tension, pace and humour.