Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Little, Brown and Company, 2010, 200 pp., $17.99
It wasn't until I finished reading The Prince of Mist, a novel by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, that I began to sense just how underrepresented the mystery genre is in young adult literature. Granted, I am not accustomed to reading mysteries, so it's possible that the genre is actually alive and thriving. Still, I suspect that's not the case, which is unfortunate given the pleasure that awaits readers of well-wrought mysteries such as this one.
Set in 1943, The Prince of Mist is essentially a ghost story. When the narrative opens, thirteen-year-old Max Carver's father announces that he has elected to relocate the family from the city, which has grown too dangerous in the face of an encroaching war, to a house in a sleepy seaside community. In route to their new home Max's father explains that he acquired the house for a low price, a result of its having sat vacant after its previous owners, a wealthy doctor and his wife, abandoned it following the death of their son, Jacob, who drowned in the sea. Shortly after settling into the new house, Max discovers an overgrown enclosure on the property that contains a number of strange statues. Later, after his father comes across a collection of old home movies in a shed behind the house, Max deduces that Jacob made them, and he begins to suspect that they may hold clues about his death. Accompanied by his older sister, Alicia, and their friend Roland, he sets out to learn more about the history of the house and the tragic circumstances that surround the boy's demise. In the process of doing so, he learns of a mysterious figure named Cain who purportedly arranged to make others' dreams come true in exchange for their souls. Convinced that a link exists between Cain and Jacob’s death, Max embarks on a journey to resolve a mystery that threatens to engulf him and his family.
When I’ve read mysteries for adolescents in the past, I've generally been disappointed with their endings, as they often seem contrived. By way of analogy, I'd liken the experience to watching Scooby Doo as a child, only to hear the villain exclaim at the conclusion of each episode, "And I'd have gotten away with it too if it wasn't for you meddling kids." I enjoyed reading The Prince of Mist, however, precisely because its author acknowledges that some mysteries are best left unresolved. Though my initial expectations led me to assume that Max and his compatriots would expose the legend of Cain as a hoax, that wasn’t the case. Curious to know how Zafon would resolve the story, I immersed myself in the novel, which I finished reading in more or less a day, and which sent more than a few chills running up my spine. A fast-paced narrative with the power to entertain, The Prince of Mist takes a number of unexpected twists, and promises to hold younger audiences in suspense.