Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Oscar Drai, a restless boarding school student, spends his free time wandering the neighborhoods of Barcelona until one of his outings leads him to the dilapidated mansion of Germán, an old widower and former artist, and his daughter Marina, who Oscar quickly befriends. After that all his spare time is spent with this odd family. On a walk through a graveyard one day, Marina and Oscar see a woman dressed in all black, face hidden, who leaves a single rose on a grave with a black butterfly engraved in it, same as she does on the last Sunday of every month, according to Marina. Curiosity gets the better of them, and they follow her, which leads them to an abandoned greenhouse full of uncanny dolls and a photo album that sets them off to solve the mystery of a by-gone era that was fueled by money, jealously, and the pursuit of eternal life.
This book is a translation of a book originally published in Spanish. The cover calls Marina “A Gothic Tale” and the story delivers in atmosphere, creepiness, and the supernatural. It makes me wish I had read it on a gloomy October day to maximize the effect. The setting – run-down mansions, abandoned movie theaters, hidden courtyards, the sewers below Barcelona – really add to the creep factor. I’ve never been to Barcelona, but if it is as dark and twisty as this book makes it seem, I am going to have to check it out some day. The best thing about this book for me, however, were the back stories of the various characters Oscar and Marina meet as the mystery unfolds. Each major player in the mystery is quite the storyteller, filling the teens in on a piece of the sinister history of which the teller has been a part. The last few chapters continue after the mystery is solved, and while they expose another more quickly resolved secret, they don’t move at the pace of the rest of the story, causing a bit of a drag at the end.
I liked this book so much that I’m looking into Zafón’s other books. He has two trilogies that are also translations and also set in Barcelona. They all sound as mysterious and broody, so I may have to pick one up soon.
TL;DR – If you like Gothic romances, horror, mystery, or Barcelona, read this book, ideally in the month of October on a gloomy day. Beware black butterflies.
This book reminded me of: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz (middle grade); Drood by Dan Simmons