I wondered why I was continuing to read Stef Penney’s The Invisible Ones, I realized it wasn’t the mystery that fascinated me. And, it wasn’t the characters because there really wasn’t a loveable one in the book. Instead, it was the story of “the invisible ones,” Gypsies in England.
When Ray Lovell woke up in a hospital after running off the road and into a tree, he had no memory of any of it. He had some paralysis, and he couldn’t talk at first. What led the private investigator to that point?
Ray Lovell was half-Gypsy, so Leon Wood, a Gypsy, picked him to look for his daughter. He hadn’t seen his daughter, Rose, in seven years, and he wanted Ray to find her. The last time anyone in her family saw her was at her wedding to Ivo Janko, another Gypsy. Ivo and her father-in-law both said she ran off with a non-Gypsy, but Rose’s father suspected murder.
Perhaps Ray was initially drawn into the case because he never felt as if he was a Gypsy. His father had been rejected by his family when he married, learned to read, and became a postman. Ray grew up in a house, so the Gypsy life of travelers was not one he knew well. The investigation sucked him in, and he was fascinated by the secrets in the Janko family.
But, J.J. Smith, a fourteen-year-old, knew nothing other than the Traveler life. He was part of the Janko family, a small family with five trailers on a site. Many of the men in the family suffered from a hereditary disease, making J.J. the only healthy young one. The role as a healthy young man, helping to care for a great-uncle in a wheelchair and a cousin with the family disease left him oddly responsible at times, but immature when it came to relationships with other teens.
Penney alternates narrators in The Invisible Ones. Ray’s viewpoint tells of his investigation into the the secrets of the Janko family, who don’t want him looking for the missing Rose. J.J.’s story is the inside look at a Gypsy family, but, as a teen, J.J. doesn’t really understand the interplay between the adults in his life.
The Invisible Ones unfolds slowly as Ray looks for answers that no one wants to share. And, in fact, most of the Janko family members really have no clue as to the answers. Ray Lovell continues on in a case that never seems to end, although tragedy leads to a conclusion that satisfies him.
Penney’s novel is intriguing and dark. It’s really the story of two men changing and growing into their lives. It’s more literary, more descriptive than the mysteries I usually read and enjoy. There is hope for both narrators by the end of The Invisible Ones, but there is hope for them, despite the Gypsy lifestyle, not because of it. Even so, it’s that lifestyle, still part of the English and Irish cultures, that made this story compelling to me.
Stef Penney’s website is http://www.stefpenney.com/.
The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney. Penguin Group (USA), ©2012. ISBN 9780399157714 (hardcover), 401p.
FTC Full Disclosure – The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it