Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Invisible Ones - Stef Penney (Audio)

When this book first came out, somehow the description wasn't enough to lure me in.  It was during the Audiobook Week this year that it popped it's little head up again, demanding to be read because of the narration.  From audiophiles that have heard it all, this book was deemed a gem.  Not from one person, but a whole sea of them.  I took the hint and ordered it.  I believe I may have found my new favorite voice.

Synopsis:  A not-quite-successful, soon-to-be divorced private investigator is lying in a hospital, paralyzed and nearly comatose.  Ray Lovell has suffered from some sort of attack, resulting in a car accident, and he believes it was a result of his current case.  He slowly recalls the events that led up to the accident that almost killed him.  

Ray (who is half Gypsy) was approached by a Gypsy man who is concerned that he hasn't heard from his daughter, Rose Janko, in six years.  She married, left with her husband's family, and was never heard of again.  The Janko family, Gypsy as well, claims Rose ran away soon after having a child who was afflicted with a genetic illness that runs in the family and is usually fatal.  But as Ray probes deeper into the vague stories and curious personalities of the Janko family, he senses that they know more than they are admitting.

We also hear from JJ Janko, 14 year-old cousin of Rose's abandoned son Christo.  JJ provides the troubled but innocent perspective of the Gypsy lifestyle in 1980's England, and the burden of helping to care for a very sick little boy who likely may die.  The embarrassment of not having an inside toilet, of never being able to invite a friend over, the transient nature of their lives...this old-fashioned notion of the Gypsy heritage clashes drastically with a modern society where a young man wants to be accepted.  

As Ray attempts to solve the mystery of Rose, he develops and navigates through complicated relationships with JJ, sickly Christo, Rose's erratic husband Ivo, the Janko patriarch Tene, and Tene's younger sister Lulu, the hot tamale with the bright red stilettos.  This is not only a story about a culture of people who remain to most of the world invisible, but of family, love, loyalty, secrets and relationships...a unique hybrid of multiple genres and a literary conundrum.

My thoughts:  What was really fun in my listening experience of this book is that I had no earthly idea what it was about.  I certainly read the reviews but didn't remember, and that worked for me.  I'm not sure if I would have ever imagined that I was interested in the Gypsy culture...I see them in the streets in Poland, and I am both annoyed with their persistence and sad for the children who are forced to "work" for their livelihoods.  But once I was plunged into this world, I was hooked.  The mystery was compelling and unpredictable, the relationships were confusing and complex and even a little endearing.  This story had it all, and was rich and fulfilling.

I was beguiled with this knack that Penney has in the story for throwing in questionable little...facts, I guess, or maybe little baby red herrings that to a reader of mysteries, tweaks the brain and makes you wonder.  Many of these threads don't go anywhere, and it left me wanting more.  I wasn't resentful, it just made my synapses zip around a little faster.  It reminded quite a bit of Tana French in that way, and I know many of you know what a complement that is coming from me.  (I got a little feeling of serendipity when I saw that French had interviewed Penney on Amazon.)

I know I am going on more than I usually do, but I must also address the texture of the two narratives.  Ray's narrative reflected his grizzled, world-weary soul but earnestness.  He is damaged, he has woman issues, he wants human connection, but is rough around the edges.  JJ's narrative was the perfect contrast...he was completely adorable.  How often do you find a 14 year-old in a novel that is adorable?  He was a good kid with a difficult life, he has seen more than most kids his age but still held on to his innocence.  I was fully invested in the both of them, but I would have taken JJ home with me.

A bunch of gushing about the audio production:  This audio was narrated by the most flipping amazing Dan Stevens.  For those of you addicted to Downton Abbey, yes THAT Dan Stevens.  I can't even express to you the delight in listening to this man effortlessly navigate through the accents, the personalities, the nuances.  I haven't had this much fun since Lenny Henry.  I had heard him narrate "The Angel's Game", which was a great audio, but he was in top form here.  So Stevens joins the very short and esteemed list of narrators I would chase down in any scenario.

Audiobook length:  11 hours, 23 minutes (416 pages)

5 out of 5 stars       


bermudaonion said...

Julie sent me this book in print but now I think I need to find the audio version of it.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Wow, wow, you didn't tell me about this! Now I have to read it, or listen, or whatever!

Julie P. said...

Really a well done literary mystery! I enjoyed it too!

Beth F said...

Oh, I must tract this down. And in audio.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Your comment about the narrator makes me want to listen to The Angel's Game. I read a hard copy, but I wanted to check out the audio version!

Zibilee said...

The gypsy culture is one that I find so strange and enticing to read about. I don't know much about them, but I am thinking of listening to this one and finding out more. I have only read one short story about the gypsies, and it was fascinating. I will have to see if I can find it for you!

techeditor said...

I read this book. Here's my review.

THE INVISIBLE ONES by Stef Penney is, no exaggeration, a fantastic read. This mystery/suspense book is a keeper; get it in hard cover. And if you’ve read Penney’s other book, THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES, this book, THE INVISIBLE ONES, is better.

Ray Lovell is a private investigator in England. The book begins with him in the hospital, but he doesn’t remember why he’s there. He’s mostly paralyzed, and he’s delirious. No one knows why. This is the first mystery.

Chapters with this hospitalized Ray alternate throughout the rest of the book with chapters about how this situation came to be. These chapters are told from two points of view: some chapters are of the earlier, able-bodied Ray and other chapters are of JJ, a 14-year-old gypsy.

A man whose daughter had been missing for almost 7 years hired Ray to find her. The man and his daughter are gypsies; Ray, himself, is half gypsy. The daughter married into a gypsy family, of course, so most of the investigation is of them. One of the members of this family is JJ.

Ray finds mystery upon mystery upon mystery. You’ll be guessing throughout, first one guess, then another. You’ll think you’re sure of one solution, then guess again. All your guesses will be wrong.

I loved this book. Really. I’m not easy to please, but THE INVISIBLE ONES is something special, not simply a plot-driven mystery/suspense book.

If you were to force me to say something negative about this book, it would have to be Ray’s attraction to one of the members of the gypsy family. I just don’t see our hero going for that combination of dyed black hair, red lipstick, and red high-heeled shoes, I guess. And he trusts her more than I would; he keeps telling her things that I wish he would keep to himself.

This review is of an advanced reader’s copy of THE INVISIBLE ONES, obtained from Putnam Books through Early Reviewer program.

Ti said...

Sounds interesting. I didn't think I was into the Gypsy culture either until I stumbled upon the reality show about it. It's fascinating but in a train wreck sort of way.

Marce said...

I have this one on my Wishlist to read. I often forget our similar interest in books.

I like that there are some unique storylines, the gypsy family is intriguing.

You get so excited over the audios, fun to read your thoughts.

Unknown said...

I enjoyed The Tenderness of Wolves, but not enough for me to want to seek out all her other books. This review has convinced me that I might need to change my mind. You are adding to mmy TBR at a massive rate at the moment :-)

JoAnn said...

Ack, I'm reading this post 30 minutes too late! I just downloaded The Bucolic Plague. Oh well... this can be next ;-)

Nise' said...

I gushed about this during audiobook week too. This was my first Dan Stevens listen, but definitely not my last! Glad you enjoyed it as well.

Heidenkind said...


Kathleen said...

I've actually started listening to audio books on my long commute recently so I will need to add this one to my list to see if my library has it.

The Novel Sphere (Melissa) said...

Have you ever read the Shannara books by Terry Brooks? For some reason whenever I hear or read about Gypsies an image of the 'rovers' from his books comes to mind. I LOVE those books, but I could probably really use a different book to superimpose this image lol... this one is going on the list!

Melissa said...

I love going in to books blind, and honestly skim reviews just enough to see if I'll like the book or not. I don't want to know plot at all (which sometimes back fires...). But it sound's like it works here!