Book #62

The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón 

Beautiful and enigmatic Alicia Gris, with the help of the Sempere family, uncovers one of the most shocking conspiracies in all Spanish history. Nine-year-old Alicia lost her parents during the Spanish Civil War when the Nacionales (the fascists) savagely bombed Barcelona in 1938. Twenty years later, she still carries the emotional and physical scars of that violent and terrifying time. 

Weary of her work as an investigator for Spain’s secret police in Madrid, the twenty-nine-year old plans to move on. At the insistence of her boss, she remains to solve one last case: the mysterious disappearance of Spain’s Minister of Culture, Mauricio Valls. With her partner, Alicia discovers a possible clue—a rare book by the author Victor Mataix hidden in Valls’ office in his Madrid mansion.

Alicia’s courageous and uncompromising search for the truth puts her life in peril. Only with the help of a circle of devoted friends will she emerge from the dark labyrinths of Barcelona and its history into the light of the future.

Zafón rounds off our four-part foray to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books with a tale so intricate, so fully developed, that it encompasses 800-odd pages. I’ve spent six weeks in this world, engrossed, frustrated, terrified, impassioned.

As with The Angel’s Game, our protagonist, Alicia Gris, is one whom we’ve never met within the pages. This was worrying, as by this stage I was deeply in love with our well-established characters, and was desperate for a glimpse of them. I shouldn’t have doubted Zafón, however. That was idiotic.

Although Alicia is working to uncover some of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, her connections to the Sempere family keep drawing her to the bookshop, and to our beloved friends. Her work is important, dangerous, and sometimes illegal, so it felt like there was no respite from the threat of harm, no escape to safety.

Every word Zafón writes is crucial here, all characters have an important role to play in order to bring the story to its closure. It’s wonderfully done, incredibly strategic, and written beautifully. The puzzles are huge, almost overwhelming, but Zafón’s care and attention allows us to solve everything alongside Alicia, witnessing her trauma and sharing her dogged determination. We’re allowed to see everything tied up perfectly, with no puzzles remaining.

This has been an incredible journey made all the better by Zafón’s skill. His style is immaculate, his plot striking, his characters entirely real and complex. His death has been a sad loss to the literary world, and yet he leaves a wonderful legacy in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. I look forward to picking these up again and again, and passing them on to others.