This lavishly Gothic prequel to The Shadow of the Wind revisits Zafón's favourite Barcelona cityscapes. Yet the novel (translated again by Lucia Graves) stands apart from its forerunner: more about the woes of writing than the joys of reading. In the strife-torn 1920s, lonely hack David Martí*rises from a life of drudgery, spewing out lurid potboilers.
An enigmatic publisher offers him a fortune to write a book to found a new religion. The scribbler's own story – a murdered father, an icy mother, a patrician protector, a true love imprisoned in a tower – outranks in sensation anything in his Grand Guignol yarns. Beyond plentiful shocks and thrills, Zafón niftily treads the fine line between a story of paranormal events and one of psychological delusion.