I got very ambitious as a reader, picking up a copy of a (nearly) 800-page book. No regrets! I gladly sacrificed some/much sleep to stay up and finish Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Let’s take a look at my review on Goodreads, shall we?
Engrossing mystery/thriller taking place for the most part in Franco’s Spain. The plot surrounds the disappearance of a high-ranking member of the government and the (extremely) tangled web involving a multitude of people.
Our hero is Alicia, a sort of less mobile, pre-internet Lisbeth Salander. She works for a shadowy government investigative team and is teamed up with a more by-the-book, veteran cop to get to the bottom of this mystery. (Sounds like a cliché, but it doesn’t play out that way.)
I devoured this book. Alicia is a fascinating character and her relationship with Vargas is a good one. The whole plot is like an onion, with layers continually peeled back as it heads to the climax. There’s fascinating detail about Barcelona and the machinations of the fascist state.
I wanted to give this book 5 stars, but thought it went on for too long. There was a “natural” ending but a coda (“Julián’s Book”) continuing the story around the son of one of the main characters was superfluous. I also found one of the characters who functioned (at least after the early parts of the book) as comic relief was a too-broad, corny caricature. I found myself more and more annoyed at his “clever witticisms.”
Finally, for context, when I bought this book I had no idea it was the final entry in a series of four novels. (Whoops!) You can read it as a stand-alone. I will admit to sometimes getting confused about how all the characters were connected, and flipping back and forth in the book. (This would be a good one to read on a Kindle where you could search for names, etc.) Though I’m not sure reading the prior books would have made me sharper on the family trees and connections.
Pour Yourself a Nice Glass of Spanish White Wine for Labyrinth of the Spirits
It turns out our hero, Alicia, has quite a thing for Spanish white wine. And, surprisingly, the first glass she enjoys is a white wine from Penedès. Why did I find it unusual she drinks “a good vintage Penedès”?
Because Penedès is Cava country. When I think of wines from the region, I think sparkling. But, hey, sometimes I’m an ignorant dummy. When I was in the Penedès region a few years ago, I discovered a still wine from the region made from one of the main Cava grapes, Xarel-lo. Delicious. A “smooth Penedès” later makes an appearance. (Is it made from Xarel-lo? I dunno, but work with me, folks.)
She shifts (wine) gears slightly for “a glass of Alella white wine.” Which I had to look up. Turns out Alella is super-close to Barcelona, and one of Spain’s oldest and smallest Spanish wine regions. The More You Know!
Finally, the character I found annoying (Fermín) does redeem himself with this breakfast: “He made himself a four-egg omelette with bits of chopped ham and cheese, which he polished off with a half-kilo French loaf and a small bottle of champagne to boot.”
Now I don’t know if this was actually Champagne or just someone calling all sparkling wine (lowercase “c’) champagne. But, regardless, this is a stupendous food and wine pairing. The richness of eggs, the saltiness of ham, gooey cheese, and bread? Bring on the sparkling wine (or Champagne), with its bread dough flavors plus lively fizz and zip to cut through all that dairy, salt, and meat.
Happy reading…and drinking!