In the Angel’s Game Zafon returns us to the Barcelona of his prior novel, Shadow of the Wind. Young David Martin is a copy boy at The Voice of Industry, but the newspaper’s star writer, Pedro Vidal, has been promoting David to the editor. Given a chance to write, David blossoms. Vidal later pushes him out of the newspaper so he can work for a pair of unscrupulous publishers of penny-dreadfuls. David is wildly successful at that as well, but pines to do more substantive writing. He is approached by a mysterious man and offered an opportunity to escape his situation by writing an unusual book. Will success and comfort cost David his soul? No, really, his soul. He is driven by mourning for a lost love, and drawn to a house with a dark history.
Zafon take us on a tour of early 20th century Barcelona. We see a city every bit as interesting as Dickens’ London. There are spooky houses, possibly haunted ones, criminal-infested alleys, a spooky man-made lake, plenty of dark corners and things that go bump. He offers a Dickensian array of characters—in fact, Great Expectations is referenced specifically several times—as Martin tries to figure out the mystery of the house and the real motivation behind his mysterious publisher. There are sinister policemen pursuing him for crimes he did not commit, lies and liars who try to misdirect him, angelic people who try to help him, and some exciting, Hitchcock-like scenes of high-altitude peril.
I did not pay obsessive attention to the details of Zafon’s story so if there are logical errors, I did not note them. A small gripe. It happens too much that simple communication between people or characters could have dispelled years of emotional turmoil. I did find myself wishing a less buttoned up environment on some of Zafron’s people. Recognizing that in this time in this place, speaking the heart was a bit less done than it might be today, one can make allowances, but still, the urge remains to shout some encouragement or criticism. “Geez, man, get off your ass and tell her how you feel.” Spleen vented. The Angel’s Game dabbles in the mystical, which fits in with the foggy atmosphere of the tale. I could have done with a bit more explanation, though. Above all, The Angel’s Game is a fun read. Set aside your disbelief, curl up in a cushy chair, open the window to let early morning fog drift in and enjoy.