So we start of the chapter with Max cycling his sister to the lighthouse to meet with Roland, regretting his decision to stop her taking the other bike. That's effectively the entire first paragraph, with a bit of joking at Max's expense and his vow to buy a motorbike when he's old enough to 1) ride a motorbike and 2) pay for it. That is if they all live that long. But seriously, that first paragraph just seems out of place; you're cycling towards a revelation that will either save your family or get you killed doing something horrifically stupid, and what do you do? Have a lark with each other. See what I mean?
So they meet Victor and, at this point, seem to get along swimmingly. Although I am a tad bit confused by Alicia's decision that Victor is "charming". Please tell me if there's something in this that I'm missing:
"You must be Alicia. And you're Max. You don't need much of a brain to work that out."Well done Victor. You can tell the difference between boys and girls. Granted, I suppose this might be really informal for the 1940s, but charming? Really? So anyway, he gives this mini-speech about how he didn't think he'd ever need to explain this, but since he does have to, he wants the kids to tell him everything that they've seen no matter how insignificant. He also uses a lot of rhetorical questions, which is a bit weird considering the circumstances. Oh well, next paragraph.
So Max tells the old guy what happened and then Victor leans back to explain. That's literally all that happens in this paragraph. Why separate it from the last one? It wasn't switching to a new idea or location, so why separate it out? All it does is highlight how little they've actually done. All I can think of now is that clown statue standing out in the garden, occasionally looking at its watch, thinking to itself, "What's keeping them?" I suppose I shouldn't be so harsh on the author, seeing as this is technically the first book he ever published, but it just seems a bit pointless to have kept this paragraph and the one that started the chapter; if this were The Shadow of the Wind or The Angel's Game, they would have been cut or at the very least edited to death, but here they frolic across the page and just feel wrong. Wow, I've ranted far too long for a paragraph that's only 13 lines....
So Victor starts speaking, but instead of telling them what the hell is wrong with the statues etc he tells them what he considers to be the three stages in a man's life: stage one when we're blissfully ignorant, stage two when we realise our mortality and stage three when we accept our mortality and start waiting. Okay, interesting, but not what we were promised. Tease. He tells them that you have to figure out how to live your life by yourself, which is fair enough, but then brings up the prospect of someone who didn't like those rules of life (and death as a package deal presumably) and decided to cheat them. Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I was just trying to rip you to shreds just then, but you have me hooked again. Curse you. So apparently, when Victor was about the same age as our protagonists, he met one of these cheats, a man known as Cain or occasionally the Prince of Mist, because he apparently only appeared in hazy conditions. Now it makes sense why this was set in Britain; if this had been set in the moors, it might well have been perfect. One other thing before I continue: Cain as in the Bible Cain? Does that mean Abel will come along sometime soon as well? But anyway, Cain is a charismatic man who gathers the local kids together at night in alleyways. Why does the image of a paedophile spring to mind? Anyway, at these meetings he makes pacts with these kids, one where he will grant them a wish in return for their undying loyalty...yeah, that image has just gotten a whole lot worse. I'd like to believe that the 40s were a more innocent age, but that's just creepy. One night, a young Victor is taken along to one of these meetings by his friend Angus, who asks Cain to get his father's job at the steel plant back. And the image has gotten a whole lot creepier. Seriously, how more obvious could the bad guy be when he gathers young kids and teens in alleyways and preys on their weaknesses and hopes as exchanges? Seriously, even if there were no supernatural element to this guy, that would still be scary as hell. In any case, Cain disappears into the mist and the next day Angus' dad is offered his old job back. Nothing happens until two weeks later, when Cain approaches Angus to honour his side of the deal. Cain's request? To burn down someone's shop as a way of settling scores. Who gets a kid to do that?! I mean, okay he's scary enough that preying on vulnerable kids is an easy enough job, but why not frighten grown up goons into doing it instead? It just makes more sense. Oh well, in any case Angus agrees to do as Cain says, seeing as he's scary and will probably eat him if he refuses. So Victor starts getting worried for Angus, as he's not sure what will happen if Angus gets caught burning the shop down. Angus' deadline to burn the shop arrives and it still stands, so Victor assumes that Angus just didn't have the heart to go through with it. He goes to see his friend the next day only to find that Angus never came home the night of the deadline. To cut the story short, Victor finds his friend in the same place they met Cain the other night, where he's been turned into a statue that slowly melts. Around his neck is a pendant with the six-pointed star that they all keep seeing. At the same time Victor finds his friend (or what's left of him anyway) the shop that Angus was told to destroy is burning to the ground. And that's pretty much where the chapter ends, in the middle of Victor's story.
I'll admit, the start really had me doubting whether I should have put so much faith in the idea that this would be a good story. But Victor's story saved this chapter for me. So yes, a very happy Nisa. Although I'm still a bit annoyed that there are so many scenes that don't really add to the plot in any way. It is his first novel, but my patience regarding the non-mystery/supernatural stuff is fraying pretty quickly.