Thursday, February 16, 2012

Stef Penney Frees The Invisible Ones

As small-time private investigator Ray Lovell veers in and out of consciousness at the hospital, he slowly begins to regain his memory about the case he was working on that put him there. Remembering isn't easy, because the toxins had left him delirious, partially paralyzed, and possibly brain damaged.

"We're waiting for the results of the toxicology tests. You seem to have ingested some kind of toxin. It could be an overdose of drugs. Did you take drugs, Ray?"

He mutters that he doesn't know. But it doesn't come out comprehensible. And he isn't certain they believe him anyway. There seems to be some conviction in the idea that he did it himself.

The Invisible Ones is a spellbinding tale told from two points of view. 

Told from two points of view — Ray Lovell and Jimmy Janko — The Invisible Ones is a glimpse deep inside the lives of modern-day gypsies. They are people who still travel the countryside in caravans, except that their wagons have been traded up to trailers and their horses have been replaced by Suburbans and trucks. They find work where they can, settling now and again before moving on.

Janko, the young teen who answers to JJ, provides the insider's view as someone just becoming really aware of how different he is from other kids his age. He isn't introduced with awareness. It creeps in along the way, spoiling his naivety and, to some degree, his belief in gypsy magic and curses.

The other perspective is Lovell, who reluctantly agreed to take a missing person case. He did it for two reasons, really. The first reason is because he and his partner could really use the money. The second is Leon Wood, his client, wouldn't take no for an answer.

Wood is convinced that anyone who isn't a gypsy wouldn't stand a chance of finding the truth about his missing daughter. And Lovell, although his father traded in the gypsy life to marry a gorjie (non-gypsy) and become a postman, happens to be part gypsy. Never mind that he doesn't know the first thing about gypsies. It's in the blood. At least Wood thinks so.

The Invisible Ones has the overtones of a dual mystery. 

While most people will find The Invisible Ones to have the elements of a mystery, it's more soft-boiled noir than a hard-boiled thriller. That's okay. Its real brilliance transcends the unraveling as it paints a portrait of people who are completely alien to the world around them — from believing a bathroom inside is unclean to having little need for privacy beyond a thin curtain.

As Lovell attempts to peer into their secretive lives (secretive even amongst each other), JJ attempts to peer outside and make sense of the bigger world. For each of them, it makes for awkward moments. Both are outsiders at different stages in life, one looking in and behind. The other looking out and forward.

The contrast in alternating chapters is addictive, and it isn't the only contrast. While the gypsies seem free because they are unbound to a home and married to the road, they are also tied to steadfast traditions, superstitions, and family hierarchy. It is against this other worldly etiquette that both of them will attempt to find out the truth without becoming ensnared.

The missing person case itself centers on Rose Wood. She disappeared about seven years ago, and her father has his doubts that she is alive. If the stories are to be believed, she had an affair and ran off with a gorjie shortly after giving birth to her son, who suffers from a hereditary decease that the Jankos claim is a family curse.

There are plenty of reasons to doubt the story. Even disgraced, her father believes she would have tried to contact him after hearing about the death of her mother. The details of her disappearance don't seem to add up at the onset. There are remains found at a site that the family travels by from time to time. And then, of course, there is one more pressing question.

Who poisoned Lovell? It could not have been a mere coincidence that it happened just as he moved closer to not only uncovering the mystery, but also discovering something more unlikely and unexpected.

A few graphs about Stef Penney, an emerging author and vivid storyteller. 

After graduating from Bristol University with a degree in philosophy and theology, Stef Penney turned to filmmaking and studying film and television at the Bournemouth College of Art. She was immediately selected for the Carlton Television New Writers Scheme, where she wrote and directed two short films. (She made three other films before being accepted by the college.)

Her first novel, The Tenderness of Wolves, received critical acclaim and earned the Costa Book Award in 2006. The story grew out of the first screenplay she had written and she centered on it because she wanted to revisit her characters and didn't have enough work as a screenwriter. The Invisible Ones is her second novel.

The Invisible Ones By Stef Penney Disappears At 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Some people will no doubt point out that the ending seems unbelievable. On one hand it might be, unless you notice the clues that Penney left like a trail of breadcrumbs. Most of it is there the entire time, out in the open.

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney is available at Barnes & Noble. The Invisible Ones is also available at Amazon. You can download the novel from iBooks or find the audio version on iTunes. The latter is read by Dan Stevens, who does an incredible job making each voice its own. The read time is 11 hours, 24 minutes.
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