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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Disappearance In A Closed Community

The Invisible Ones - Stef Penney

The Invisible Ones is a detective story set within the Gypsy community. it's narrated from two points of view: a half-Gypsy private detective who is investigating the disappearance of a young Gypsy woman; and an adolescent Gypsy boy from an isolated but tightly-knit family.

The unusual setting gives the story a level of interest well beyond the scope of most detective novels. There's a cast of strongly realised characters who all suffer, in their separate ways, from an abiding sense of incompleteness that colours the narrative and that I suspect will remain with me for a long time.

It's a story about the struggle for identity and, like Stef Penney's best-selling debut The Tenderness of Wolves, it focuses on the conflicting ties of family and convention. Unfortunately, it's not as successful as The Tenderness of Wolves. Partly, that's because of the difficulty for an outsider (or Gorijo as the Gypsy community apparently label us) of recreating the Gypsy experience with complete authenticity. Also, partly it's because the sense of frustrated maternal love that howled through every page of The Tenderness of Wolves is here replaced by the unhappiness of the private investigator, complete with failed marriage and drinking habit, and that's something of a cliché.

It's a good story and one that draws you into a world you may not have expected to enter a world that is somehow both intensely claustrophobic and aching with loneliness. But it suffers a little by comparison with its predecessor.