The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney
Published: January 2012
Trade Paperback, 401 pages
The story is set in the Gypsy community circa 1980. Ray is a half Romany or Gypsy private investigator hired to find a missing Gypsy woman, Rose Janko. He begins his search with the Janko family, the in-laws of Rose, who are very resistant to questions about her. They all declare that she ran away 7 years previously following the birth of her son, Christo, born with a hereditary familial blood disease.
The family is dogged by tragedy as a mysterious blood disease has taken the lives of several male members of their family. Only Ivo, the baby’s father has been cured of the disease, it seems. Ray finds the Janko family were and are curiously unmoved by Rose’s disappearance – why? Secrets abound. Ray is more determined than ever to find Rose, solve the growing mystery about her, the Janko family, and “pure” Gypsy blood. Then Ivo disappears and the mystery deepens.
There are two narrators – Ray Lovell and JJ Janko. The author is a woman who writes convincingly as the “voice” of 40-something, Ray, and JJ, a teenage boy in the Janko family.
I can usually tell by the first sentence and/or the first paragraph of a book whether or not I’m going to like it. The introductory paragraph of this book describes a sexual encounter in a hospital bed. Was it real or the result of a hallucinatory herb given to Ray? In either case, it was, in my opinion, completely unnecessary to the development of the story. Expletives (f-words) are used throughout the book, again a technique wholly unnecessary to the telling of a good story.
I love a book that not only entertains but also informs. The Invisible Ones does both. Apart from the mystery, it gives the reader a glimpse into Gypsy life in Britain, for that is where the story takes place. They move from site to site, decidedly preferring trailers to homes. There are half-blood and full-blood Gypsies, the latter having a certain status in the community. Their grapevine is very effective and they somehow know typical Gypsy family names. Their origins in Britain go back about 500 years when the first exotic dark-skinned Travelers arrived there. The leader of the group called himself the King of Little Egypt and though they were not actually from Egypt, (more likely from Eastern Europe) the name stuck – Egyptians/Gypsies. There are gypsy words sprinkled throughout the novel that add authenticity.
This book has a very unusual story line and keeps the reader intrigued almost to the end. It’s worth reading.
Note: This book is rated S = Sex and P = profanity
Reviewed by Sandra