This substantial read forms one part of the Cemetery of Forgotten quartet. Translated by Lucia Graves, this is an intricate mystery that navigates through and around Barcelona from 1919 to 1992.

Alicia is a strong yet likeable female character who is a police agent commissioned to find Don Maurico Valls, a culture administrator, who works within the Franco administration. He has recently disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Although a lengthy read it is beautifully written and depicted. Much of the descriptive prose is inspiring, with a bounty of choice to indulge in and features such as: ‘The water of Canelatos Fountain glistened in the void suspended like a necklace of glass tears’.

Valls is a writer and owner of very rare books. Much of this is ultimately linked through books and other authors’ writing that essentially conveys how fiction is very much based around actual events of some sort.

All the characters are bold, deftly described and hold your interest. There are quite a lot of misogynistic views that are no doubt reflective of the era. The moving back and forth to different times risks being a bit disruptive, although it is likely to enhance the mystery and build intrigue as interwoven aspects cross over, but it did at times mean the writing lost its cadence. Considering the size of the book, the skill is probably that this did only happen in patches, and it did not spoil it for me, but it is a sizeable risk factor when producing such a tome to sustain readership.

There is a great blend of politics, reference to Catalan issues, Spanish historical events and characters such as Dan Quixote – some macabre violence also. There is an immersive feel about the lifestyles and destinations it was set in. The mystery is intelligently written with complex interlocking plots, conveyed in a relaxed and flowing style, but it takes a certain reading commitment given the size of the read and absence of tension to reach a tad lengthy but not altogether unsatisfying denouement.

Sara Garland 3/1

The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
W&N 9781474606189 hbk Sep 2018