After millennial ghostwriter Trevor Moore rents an old farmhouse in Fuerteventura, he moves in to find his muse.
Instead, he discovers a rucksack filled with cash. Who does it belong to – and should he hand it in… or keep it?
Struggling to make up his mind, Trevor unravels the harrowing true story of a little-known concentration camp that incarcerated gay men in the 1950s and 60s.
About Isobel Blackthorn:
Award-winning author, Isobel Blackthorn, is a prolific novelist of unique and engaging fiction. She writes across a range of genres, including gripping mysteries and dark psychological thrillers. Isobel was shortlisted for the Ada Cambridge Prose Prize 2019.
Isobel holds a PhD in Western Esotericism from the University of Western Sydney for her ground-breaking study of the texts of Theosophist Alice A. Bailey. Her engagement with Alice Bailey’s life and works has culminated in the biographical novel The Unlikely Occultist and the full biography Alice A. Bailey: Life and Legacy.
Isobel carries a lifelong passion for the Canary Islands, Spain, her former home. Four of her novels are set on the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. These standalone novels are setting rich and fall into the broad genre of travel fiction.
Isobel has led a rich and interesting life and her stories are as diverse as her experiences, the highs and lows, and the dramas. A life-long campaigner for social justice, Isobel has written, protested and leant her weight to a range of issues including asylum seekers and family violence. A Londoner originally, Isobel currently lives in Queensland, Australia.
I was provided with a free ebook copy of this book in exchange for a review.
What is A Prison in the Sun about?
A Prison in the Sun focuses on Trevor, a middle-aged divorced ghost writer on holiday in the Canary Islands. Encouraged by his closest friend to take a writing retreat, Trevor seeks inspiration both for his writing and for his personal life. He joins a gym, does some sight seeing, and accidentally stumbles across a rucksack full of cash in a sea cave. The mystery of the cash spirals tightly around Trevor and everywhere he looks is a new threat to him purely because he happened upon the rucksack in the cave. At the same time, his fascination with the prison visible from his farmhouse–a Franco era concentration camp for gay men of the islands–seems a promising inspiration for his writing.
The majority of this book is concerned with the mysterious rucksack full of cash, and thereby the book is a mystery itself. In fact, it is part of a series of semi-connected books that are all mysteries set in the Canary Islands. Despite largely functioning as a mystery, beginning a little after the middle of the book are sections that function as historical fiction portraying the life of an inmate of the Tefia concentration camp.
Tropes: Intertwined Lives
A lot of side characters and twists in this book focus on the entwining of Trevor’s life with others’. From the connections between various acquaintances he makes on the island to his own connections to the story he begins to write, Trevor is regularly introspective and honestly a whole lot self absorbed. He reads himself into the story of the prisoner he’s reading and writing, and his presumptions begin to catch up with him as time goes on.
There’s definitely one word I’d use to describe the main character and that’s dramatic. Because his reactions to events tend to be so over the top, he makes the world around him more dramatic. Events that could be coincidence he turns into suspicious moments that unfurl into more and more suspicious moments. In fact, I think he largely brings fear onto himself by blowing so many things out of proportion and trying to back out when the drama he’s caused gets too intense.
This was a genuinely absorbing read. At first, Trevor’s details of his day to day life are pretty boring considering he’s on vacation and the first thing he does is go grocery shopping and get a gym membership. Then again, in a time of COVID-19 induced self isolation that is mildly exciting to read about… Trevor is an unreliable narrator but also aware of that fact, aware of the things he’s ignorant of and self flagellating over the things he’s suspicious of for no good reason. I also found the history presented quite interesting, especially considering what Trevor finds in the book is for the most part true: there is very little information about the Tefia concentration camp on the Internet aside from articles in Spanish (which unfortunately I cannot read) and the barest mention of its existence. I also genuinely enjoyed the parts of the book that were Jose’s story, which were beautifully written and very moving.
Trevor’s dramatics wore on me a bit. He makes a lot of decisions that are frankly ridiculously stupid, and they pile on each other. Additionally, he’s suspicious of everyone he knows on Fuerteventura for one reason or another, and his agonizing over his sexuality got dull pretty fast. The only redeeming factor to all of these things were that in some ways his dramatics were appropriately leveled, if in the exact wrong direction. With his sexuality, he spends the whole novel denying he might be attracted to men while eventually voicing he might be, and though he’s aware of his privilege and position in society contrasted to the gay men interned at the concentration camp he sees from his window, he doesn’t dig much deeper than that.
I didn’t like the ending. This book was a four star rated read for me, because it was engaging and interesting and just a bit mysterious but….the ending really left a bad taste in my mouth. I won’t spoil it at all, but suffice to say it was a dissatisfying ending for Trevor and it revealed his true colors to an extreme that I wish had been gradual throughout the novel instead.
The ending of this book did leave a bad flavor in my mouth, but otherwise I was enjoying the read for the most part! Trevor isn’t the most likable of narrators, but he did his job and introduced us to the more fascinating and tragic parts of Tefia. I wish there had been more information in the book about the camp, its inhabitants, and the other events that went on there but just as Trevor says for himself, there’s not a lot of sources with that information available so I can hardly fault the author for making do with what was out there. The ending seemed to come out of nowhere, despite the build up to it and the inevitability of Trevor facing up to what had happened on the island. It just felt hollow since there was no real taste of exactly what was going to happen next and because by that point Trevor had become insufferable. I’m planning to read at least the book that immediately preceded this one to see if that clarifies anything about what was going on in the background of Trevor’s story, since so many plot threads were simply never picked up again.