The Invisible Ones Hardcover – Jan 10 2012
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“Penney’s produced another standout effort … The Invisible Ones exceeds what we expect from a good mystery novel by delivering weighty themes with the light touch of one immersed in creating suspense: the result is a delight, with a kicker that shocks and satisfies, to boot.” - Maclean's
“Penney … keeps her mystery on a nice, slow boil while offering fascinating glimpses of Gypsies.” - The New York Times
“Penney’s produced another standout effort … The Invisible Ones exceeds what we expect from a good mystery novel by delivering weighty themes with the light touch of one immersed in creating suspense: the result is a delight, with a kicker that shocks and satisfies, to boot.” - Maclean’s
“This novel pulses with film-noir-esque suspense … A moving meditation on belonging and acceptance.” - People
“Penney is a good storyteller. She unfurls various mysterious plot possibilities and unearths the insecurities that lurk in families and relationships. She imagines the Romany world carefully, avoiding cliché or judgement or anything too negative … there are moments of transcendence here, moments where Penney’s writing really excels.” - Sunday Times (U.K.)
“If her debut was a literary Western, then her new tale is something of a bookish version of a Bogart puzzler. As a film graduate, Penney’s approach to prose is cinematic and inclusive.” - Independent on Sunday (U.K.)
“The mystery element of the story is adroitly handled, as clues and subtle inconsistencies in the Janko story are dropped in. Yet its destination is a total surprise … The Invisible Ones is a book about love, deception, growing up, belonging, being an outsider and about how all our presents are haunted by our pasts. Its author is a supreme story-teller on top form.” - The Times (U.K.)
“Penney … keeps her mystery on a nice, slow boil while offering fascinating glimpses of Gypsies.” - The New York Times
“It would take far longer than my allotted space to explain the dense plot of this highly impressive thriller … A terrific novel with much disturbing wisdom amid the thrills.” - Reader’s Digest (U.K.)
“[A] haunting tale … This is a beautifully crafted novel with skilful characterisation and a plot which twists and turns … This story of loss, deceit and family tragedy lingers long after you’ve finished the book.” - Daily Express (U.K.)
“Penney’s portrayal of the gypsy way of life is sympathetic. Seemingly bizarre customs are given a context; strong love is set against deadening control … A marvellously atmospheric piece of writing.” - Financial Times (U.K.)
“This is a murder mystery unpicked at the seams, turned inside out, and stitched together with threads of myth, old griefs, twisted forms of love and complex family ties into something utterly new and utterly enthralling. Warning: you will not get anything else done till you finish the last page of this book.” - Tana French, author of The Likeness and In the Woods
“Penney takes her time building suspense and drawing us into the heads of her characters, but never lets up on intriguing and mysterious situations … She knows how to tell a story, how to reach her readers and hold them from start to finish. Indeed, she may be one of the best storytellers we have at the moment.” - The Scotsman
“The insular Romany world is a fascinating setting for a novel … [Penney] manages to weave the culture’s rich history throughout the fabric of the book and is adept at contrasting the worlds of tradition with the modern … A compelling mystery and Penney is a talented storyteller” - The Irish Independent
“What readers will remember is the way of life that Penney describes so evocatively and the myth-exploding details about travelling families … I still found it hard to put down.” - Literary Review (U.K.)
“The story ends with a bone-rattling surprise … Another stunner from Penney; highly recommended.” - Library Journal (starred review)
“In her mesmerizing sophomore outing, Penney wraps a riddle in a mystery inside an enigma that intrigues from the very first page … Fast-paced, with characters who will live in full color inside the reader’s head, Penney delivers an impressive follow-up to her debut bestseller.” - Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Penney gives her plot plenty of twists and saves the best for the end, with a truly unforeseen and unpredictable conclusion.” - Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Stef Penney was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland . Her debut novel, The Tenderness of Wolves, was an international bestseller and received the prestigious Costa Award. She is also a screenwriter.
Top Customer Reviews
The opening scene is one that will hook you into the story from the first page. Ray awakes in a hospital bed, paralyzed and with no memory of how he came to be there. Penney takes us back to the beginning and on the journey of how Ray ended up where he is.
Ray Lovell is a small time private investigator - he mostly does cheating spouse cases and avoids missing persons after a case went really wrong. But when Leon Wood comes into the office asking Ray to hunt down his daughter Rose, he hesitates. Wood is a traveller - a Romany - a gypsy. Leon has approached Ray as he knows that he is half gypsy himself. The case seems impossible. Wood has not seen his daughter in 7 years - since the day of her wedding in 1978 to Ivo Janko, the last in a line of 'black blood' travellers. But - he agrees.
As Ray delves back into a world he knows, but isn't a part of any longer, he is met with resistance, lies, indifference and hostility. No one is overly concerned where Rose is. "Suddenly I am absolutely determined to find her, because no one else seems really bothered".
The Invisible Ones is told from two parallel viewpoints - that of Ray and of JJ - a fourteen year old boy who is part of the Janko family - in alternating chapters. This was guaranteed to keep me up late - I simply had to keep reading to find out what was happening with the other character. The narrative with Ray flips from present to past as his memory slowly returns.
Ray and JJ are both on journeys, although they may not realize it.Read more ›
The narrative is divided between Ray’s investigations and the thoughts of Jimmy Janko, who is known as JJ. Like Ray Lovell, JJ is of mixed blood and is trying to survive in two very different worlds: school, and the caravan. The caravans (there are five on the Janko site) allow little privacy, and contact with the outside world is regarded as unclean. But surely someone knows where Rose is, or what has happened to her?
I found this novel absorbing, with its glimpses into a totally unfamiliar way of life. Ms Penney made these characters come to life as recognisable individuals, with their own backgrounds, prejudices and values. And the ending? Well, I didn’t see it coming and I didn’t want to believe it. But it works. While this is a quite different novel from ‘The Tenderness of Wolves’ in many ways, they share an atmosphere of isolation. In ‘The Tenderness of Wolves’ it’s created by the physical environment, in this novel it’s a consequence of cultural difference.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Private investigator Ray Lovell is half Gypsy, which is why a Gypsy father hires him to look for his missing daughter Rose. An outsider won't get anywhere questioning Gypsies. Thanks to Ray's relentless probing, we get a fascinating look at the lifestyle of present-day Travelers in England. Rather than living in caravans, they live in trailers. That may not sound exotic, but you'll see. It is.
And the family Rose married into is particularly mysterious. There have been a shocking number of deaths among them.
The structure of the book is quite clever. Chapters are alternately narrated by the dogged, self-deprecating investigator without a clue - and a charming young Gypsy boy equally clueless about what's going on.
The author is an accomplished writer who handles her outré subject matter with grace and wit. The characters are fascinating people, from the old Gypsy man obsessed with pure black blood to the grouchy femme fatale in red high heels.
The plot withstood all my efforts to unravel it. I loved the shocking beginning. And although the ending is a bit far fetched, I went with it.
I'd definitely recommend this book to readers in search of a new kind of thrill from their next thriller. And readers who might like a genre bending mix of mystery and literature.
Not a patch on The Tenderness of Wolves
I loved her debut novel ~ it had a great sense of place and time, with an interesting and diverse set of characters who were threaded through intriguing plotlines.
This also had lots of characters, but they didn't always hold my interest. I found the alternate chapters in the voice of the young teenager lacked verisimilitude (at time I wondered if he was supposed to be a bit "slow" given the clumsy dialogue and thoughts expressed by the character). In fact, the male pespective from her characters didn't ring true.
The gypsy theme was interesting and and an unusual background for the detective novel but it lacked "noir" for me. The investigation drags, probably because there are so many asides about the characters and their love lives, and ultimately it is too convoluted.
I didn't see the big twist coming at the end ... and I wondered if the author knew it was coming ... or decided as she wrote the last chapters just which of the red herrings she would follow up. Too much, too convoluted, and yet, too superficial.
Scottish author Stef Penney offers an unhurried literary mystery. But the missing persons case proves less important than the identity issues that the characters' culture clash produces. Ray Lovell is settled and intensely English, while the Woods and the Jankos live in Airstream trailers, beyond the fringes of British politesse. Both struggle with the limits of acceptance in a society that denies their legitimacy.
Ray Lovell's father abandoned that ship. He joined the army, married an English girl, bought a house, and became British. JJ Janko, the missing girl's nephew, lives with a family dedicated to "purity." Their circle of trailers forms their fortress against encroaching British assimilation, even as they send young JJ to state school, and chivvy work on the fly. JJ both covets and fears the British culture that surrounds his family enclave.
When Lovell and the Jankos move in on each other, each reminds the other what they are not. Lovell cannot return to the life his father abandoned, even though his peers always remind him that, as a Gyppo, he stands outside the British class system. JJ Janko sees Lovell as an example of the quintessentially British life he'd like, which he sees while standing outside his schoolmates' brick houses and cultivated gardens.
Beneath this conflict lingers Christo Janko, sickly son of Ivo Janko and Rose Wood. The Jankos blame Rose for fleeing her uninspiring marriage and weak child, whose illness gradually sucks his life away through most of the book. The Jankos pray for a miracle, literally, with a trip to Lourdes in the bargain. However, Lovell-- settled, British, and secular-- finagles Christio in with a cutting-edge London doctor who may hold the key.
Lovell doesn't know, however, how Christo's illness explains Rose Wood's disappearance.
Stef Penney uses the trappings of mystery, but these are essentially ornament. This story really deals with identity and social role. Britain's class-based society doesn't allow many people to move on the scale, especially in this novel's Thatcherite milieu. Everyone is trapped to a certain extent. But how much of this trap begins in the characters' own heads? Could they change, if they wanted to? And can they accept what that change would entail?
Penney's career as a filmmaker comes across in this book. You can practically see the cross-fades and jump-cuts in how she sets her scenes. But that's part of the voice that makes this such an eminently readable book. And her haunting characters, like Brontë or Tolstoy, will linger long after you close the covers.
The book is set in the 1980s and is told from the perspective of two key players: Ray Lovell, a private investigator who is half Gypsy, and JJ Smith, a 14-year-old boy who's a member of the traveler family Ray is investigating. Rose Woods, who married JJ's uncle Ivo, disappeared seven years earlier, and her father, recently widowed, is fearing the worst, so engages Ray to find her or at least determine what happened to her. He is convinced that only someone with a Gypsy background will gain the access necessary to carry out the job. Ray is reluctant because of an earlier missing person case that ended badly, but business is slow, so he accepts the job, becoming entangled in the lives of the extended Janko/Smith family, a mystery in and of itself.
Stef Penney, a screenwriter, is an excellent novelist, with a born storyteller's sense of pacing, knowing just how much to reveal to keep her readers captivated. She's adept at getting inside her main characters' heads and has recreated a world most people know little or nothing about, especially its modern-day incarnation. As the story unfolds, mysteries build upon mysteries, and I devoured the book, enjoying every page.
Now I'm keen to read her first book, The Tenderness of Wolves.
Five enthusiastic stars. Highly recommended.
Private detective Ray Lovell, who usually works on cases of unfaithful spouses, receives a visit from an elderly man, Leon Wood, a Gypsy, who recognizes Ray as one of "them" (although Ray is only half Romany) and therefore entrusts him with a mission of finding his daughter Rose, who has been missing for seven years. Ray, melancholic after losing his wife (he is delaying signing the divorce papers) is initially hesitant, but he quickly gets drawn into the mystery and gets emotionally involved.
Rose Wood had married Ivo Janko, a beautiful young man from the "pureblood" Gypsy family, but then she disappeared. The Janko family claim she run off, but her father is convinced she must be dead. Ray interviews the members of the extended Janko family, and gets to know Ivo and his son Christo, marked by a hereditary disease, Ivo's father, Tene, the family patriarch, his sister and her husband, and their daughter and her teenage son JJ (who is narrating the chapters alternately with Ray). But the most interesting for Ray, and hiding her own secret, is Tene's younger sister, Lulu.
The mystery immerses the reader in the world of the Travelers, showing the differences between them and "gorjios" and the attitudes of both groups to one another, seen from different angles and generational perspectives. The story is really good, Ray, although he is a decent private investigator, has to go back on his trail several times - a lot of clues turn out to be false or misleading. I really enjoyed the whole concept and I was not disappointed in Stef Penney's idea and her writing.