The Watcher in the Shadows, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Although the book was designed for an age group of 8 and up, I am not sure what makes it only part of the youth genre. Except for a few parts of the narrative, which felt a bit immature or inane, this could easily have passed for a crossover book, at least up to YA. Although the story is not very deep, I found it very entertaining and enjoyed listening to the reader who was excellent.
The author, Zafon, is a magician with words. His characters become real as his fantasy leaps from the page with magnificent descriptive passages which are guaranteed to entrance young readers. It has a touch of the supernatural with monsters, doppelgangers, lurking shadows, spirits, legends, romance, danger, murder and suspense. It is a perfectly exciting fairy tale which begins with a melancholy letter written to Irene Sauvelle, by Ismael, her former close friend. During the intervening time, since they last saw each other as teens, many years have passed.
When Armand Sauvelle dies, in 1936, leaving his wife Simone and their two children Dorian and Irene, alone and in debt, Simone is eventually forced, in 1937, to take a position working for a master toymaker on the coast of Normandy in a place called Blue Bay. There, they are provided with a home to live in, called Seaview, and life begins to look up for them. It is there, also, that Irene and Ismael develop their deep and long-lasting affection for each other.
Simone begins to work for Lazarus Jann in his enormous castle-like mansion, Cravenmoore, complete with gargoyles and every conceivable kind of toy and automaton. There is an atmosphere of the unknown in the mansion and when invited to have dinner there, the younger child, Dorian, notices that Mr. Jann, does not cast a shadow. Therein lies the beginning of this exciting adventure. The reader will be led on a merry and sometimes frightening chase in order to discover the true meaning of the shadow, and the mystery of the toymaker’s life in this mansion which emits a strong scent of danger. The reader will wonder, and consider, why Mr. Jann is haunted by his memories. Besides being a thrilling mystery, it is also a very appealing, romantic teenage love story.
An older reader might search for different answers to the events in the book, like was their really a Daniel Hoffman, who was the original toymaker of legend, was he simply a figment of imagination, used as a survival tool in the mind of a child locked in a basement for several days, was Mr. Jann insane, were his creations really weapons, could great sadness and terrible abuse create mental illness, was it mass hysteria or were there really monsters afoot? Regardless of the age of the reader, I think there will be a common end result, enjoyment.