The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Daniel is the young son of a seller of old and rare books in the city of Barcelona, 1945. One day his father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where he chooses a book that will be his to protect for the remainder of his years. The book he chooses is "The Shadow of the Wind" by Julian Carax.
As he attempts to solve the mystery surrounding "The Shadow of the Wind", he grows older, experiences love and loss, meets an odd and interesting assortment of people and gets drawn deeply into a story of jealousy, revenge, murder, insanity and a magnificent house that practically becomes another character. It takes him nearly 20 years to unravel the tangled threads that weave in and out of every strata of Barcelona society.
Zafon is a master storyteller. There are so many twists and turns and complications in this story that I had to glance back at previous chapters a few times to make sure I was keeping it all straight. The connections between characters and the way their histories overlap and intertwine makes for an incredible story the like of which I haven't seen in a while. I cannot fathom how he kept it all straight in his head while he wrote it.
The overall tone of the book is a bit dark, but not too dark, just enough to create a good atmosphere for a mystery, a bit like the mood of a Victorian melodrama only much more involved and detailed. The writing is so good you forget all about it till you turn the last page and think "Wow". There are characters you'll like and root for, a few you'll feel sorry for, and at least one you'll quite enjoy hating. There's a good balance of positive and negative outlook so it never becomes either cheesy or depressing. "...the father she had lost when she was still too young - as happens with all good things in life" is balanced with "Come now...cheer up. Things have always been like this, here and everywhere else. The trouble is, there are some low moments, and when those strike close to home everything looks blacker."
This is a highly satisfying tale that offers the reader just about everything you'd ever want in a novel. It's a bit long at 487 pages but once you start it's hard to put down, so though it's not a quick read, it doesn't take too long to get through. I definitely recommend it.