The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney is an interesting and flavourful mystery/ suspense story. At the outset of the novel a private investigator named Ray lay in hospital not sure why he is there. As the plot progresses, the story of his last investigation is slowly unveiled, as is the fact that he has been in a car crash and was apparently at one point also poisoned. Ray has been contacted by a father searching out his missing daughter, Rose Janko. But Rose has been missing for seven years and nobody has sought her until now. Why? And why after seven years is it suddenly necessary to locate her? All of the characters are gypsies (Romany), and the Janko family appears to be hiding some sort of secret. They may be cursed, some believe, evidenced by the fact that countless members of their family have been stricken by disease. This odd disease seems to occur only in the males. We soon learn Rose Wood, was married and had a son named Christo, afflicated by the disease. She is vilified by members of her husband’s family who wonder why anyone would wish to find a mother who apparently abandoned her son. The family she has left behind struggle with secrets, disability and poverty. They invest their time and resources chasing strange, unproven treatments in hopes they can save their youngest family member.
Penney is an interesting and unique writer. Her characters are not extremely likable but plot and setting sustain the Invisible Ones. I found this novel a difficult read at times. Ray, the main character, is engaging and three dimensional and even memorable, perhaps because he is himself wounded in several ways. Ray is also part Romany, a fact that has led to his hiring. The narration is split, alternating chapters are told by Ray and JJ, the young nephew of Ivo. JJ provides an interesting counterpart and a different insider’s view of the Janko clan. He is a somewhat naive narrator because of his young age, but it seems abundantly apparent from the start that JJ is himself, either withholding something vital to the investigation, or about to stumble onto a big clue. While I enjoyed these two characters and their opposing narratives, I found this to be stylistically jarring at times. There are few writers who can flawlessly juggle this alternating viewpoint style of narration. While I grew to expect the alternating chapters, and even understod why it was necessary in this story, I felt the chapter transitions might have benefitted from a minor massaging to make it flow better.
The setting of the story is very unusual and Penney scores points for that to be sure. The cultural elements are rich and believable. This is a world where some characters are full gypsy (Romany) and others only half. Intermarriage is frowned on and Rose, it turns out, was only a half Romany wife. There were many moments I felt it took far too long for the climax of the story to speed up the pace of the plot and create any urgency at all.
Penney is an interesting author, a bit mysterious herself. Born and raised in Scotland she was for a time agoraphobic. Her first novel The Tenderness of Wolves was an international bestseller. This is the first novel I have ever read by Penney.
The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney, Viking Canada, January 2012, $30.00, 416 pages, Fiction
This one gets $$$ out of $$$$$. If you enjoy mysteries with strong and compelling cultural backgrounds you will enjoy this novel. I was not compensated for my review but receive a free copy of the book for review purposes.
Thanks to Bronwyn Kienapple, the author and Penguin Canada for asking me to be part of this blog tour.
The Virgin Cure, by Ami McKay, Knopf Canada, 356 pages, New York, 2011, Hardcover, $32.00.
This one gets a $$$$ 1/2 out of $$$$$. A must read.
I was not compensated for this review. I received the book free from the publisher and am a member of the on line monthly book chat hosted by the lovely Wanda @YMCBookalicious who posts on books over at The Yummy Mummy Club. Go read her for more contests and book reviews.
(My Full review appears in New York Journal of Books)
Makeda combines so many themes and genres it is slightly hard to categorize. It is a sweeping saga starting at the point of the civil rights movement and tracing the roots of a common history through time and, even space. Makeda is also the highly personal inner journey of one man, Gray March.
Randall Robinson is an intellectual and a writer of note. He has numerous publications to his credit. He is the author of An Unbroken Agony and bestsellers, The Debt, The Reckoning, Quitting America and Defending The Spirit. This novel is well researched and intricate. It delivers a lot of historical fact. It is however at times too densely packed and might have been more aggressively pruned. Robinson’s prose is quite lovely in passages such as: “The month of March seems invariably to promise more than it delivers, teasing spring, frustrating hope’s impatience.” And yet there are moments that it is almost bogged down by the plot and excessive wordiness. While the main character Gray is accomplished and a scholar and the intellectual style of writing is not completely out of character, it is a barrier for readers. It is an intellectual affect – using four large words when one accurate one might do and make a work more accessible.
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