The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

Summary from the publisher:
Small-time private investigator Ray Lovell veers between paralysis and delirium in a hospital bed. But before the accident that landed him there, he’d been hired to find Rose Janko, the wife of a charismatic son of a traveling Gypsy family, who went missing seven years earlier. Half Romany himself, Ray is well aware that he’s been chosen more for his blood than his investigative skills. Still, he’s surprised by the intense hostility he encounters from the Jankos, who haven’t had an easy past. Touched by tragedy, they’re either cursed or hiding a terrible secret-whose discovery Ray can’t help suspecting is connected to Rose’s disappearance. . . .

I can’t say how excited I was when The Invisible Ones arrived right before Christmas. Someone from the fabulous marketing team at Putnam recommended it to me because I love Tana French, and between that, the fact that it was about Gypsies in England, and the rave reviews it received in such publications as People, I was itching to pick this up. When I finally did last week, I found that it was well worth the wait.

The Invisible Ones is one of those twisted mysteries where you think you have a handle on where things are going and who the guilty parties are, only to be completely surprised when the truth finally hits you. The fact that Ray lost his memory at a crucial point in the case only heightens this, because you’re desperately trying to piece together his deductions as he remembers them. I was glued to the page, to the point where I wished my commute was just a few minutes longer so I could finish the chapter.

I really enjoyed Ray as a protagonist because he’s not your typical, brilliantly observant private investigator. That’s not to say he’s not those things—he is—but he’s also dealing with a lot of emotional baggage from a painful divorce and a previous case that went horribly wrong, and both of these things play strongly into the Janko case, causing him to be too cautious in certain situations and too trusting in others. And, of course, he has to reconcile his own past with his experiences with the Jankos and the rest of the Gypsy community. A character like this has every potential to be frustrating, but Ray never reached that point for me, rather I felt that he worked through all of his issues as he worked through the case, and when the solution finally became clear to him, he truly earned it.

What fascinated me most about this book, though, was the incredible insight Ms. Penney gave the reader into the Gypsy community through her second narrator, JJ. Gypsies are notoriously reticent towards outsiders, and having JJ’s input on what was going on within the Janko family and on Gypsy lifestyle was invaluable and really made the story special. Without it, The Invisible Ones had the potential to be a one-sided mystery about the dark and mysterious world of the Traveler. I also have to commend Ms. Penney on really capturing the Gypsy lifestyle, both from the traveling stand point and those who live “in bricks,” as she says. It’s clear that there was a lot of research involved, and it’s all presented respectfully, but truthfully.

Even though this book was recommended to me as a Tana French fan, I think The Invisible Ones is in a category all its own. It was an incredibly absorbing yarn that takes its time to unravel, and I highly recommend it.

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