I have read all of Zafon's translated works and he is one of my favourite authors. I waited a long time in anticipation for `Prisoner' to be released and managed to bag a copy the day before my holiday. Surrounded by sand, sea, bucket and spade, I was disappointed to discover that, despite a summer publication date, the story was set at Christmas time; however, it didn't take long to overlook the fairy lights and nativity scenes and become gripped by the story. At times, the book was utterly un-put-down-able.
I'm still feeling confused by how absorbing the novel was since the plot lacks the complexity of `Shadow' and `Angel's Game' and feels considerably narrower, largely focusing on Daniel's friend and book shop colleague Fermin. There's less mystery too and the twists and turns aren't nearly as impressive as its predecessors'. And yet, I still found it hard to put the book down. Zafon is a master at pace and cliff-hangers and casts atmospheric webs that keep you trapped inside the novel long after you've finished reading. One senses he could write the story of the three little pigs and still make it gripping.
The characters are Zafon's customary larger-than-life heroes and villains and are beautifully drawn. Valls, the director of the prison where most of the story is set, is a wonderfully wicked, and often a-typical, bad guy. The prison itself is also beautifully drawn and Lucia Graves' translation ensures we are chilled by its brooding presence at the dark deeds that go on within its walls.
For me, the draw of Zafon's cycle of novels is the unashamed indulgence in dusty old books, mysterious messages, creepy buildings and shadowy figures. `Prisoner' is more restrained with these themes, but their presence is still strong enough to prevent disappointment among fans. Moreover, Zafon's sense of adventure and apparent love of books is as palpable as ever.
A note for those new to Zafon: the book is probably best considered a spin-off tale rather than a fully-rounded novel. Unlike the other two parts of the cycle, `Prisoner' doesn't work hard enough at being a stand-alone piece as well. The author suggests in a note on the text that the three books can be read in any order because they all lead back to the same centre; however, I would personally recommend that new readers read at least `The Shadow of the Wind' first.