Penney’s Costa Award-winning debut novel, The Tenderness of Wolves, combined history, mystery, and an unnerving ability to describe chilling weather in a genre-bending way that deserved its many accolades. Such an auspicious start means her second novel must bear considerable scrutiny. Fortunately, Penney’s produced another standout effort, one that examines the marginalized, misunderstood Roma culture (all too commonly referred to by their pejorative, Gypsy nickname).
Ray Lovell, a private detective, has spent plenty of time putting his half-Romany background behind him. Then he’s hired to trace the whereabouts of Rose Janko, who disappeared after the birth of her child and has been missing for seven years. What’s strange is that no one in the tight-knit Romany clan she married into saw fit to report her disappearance. The investigation leads him to question the nature of familial bonds.
Penney, however, has more on her mind than a standard detective novel, meaty and twisty as the investigation proves. Through the eyes of JJ, a teen member of the Jankos’ younger generation, she evokes the awkwardness of not fitting in and the hope of finding one’s voice outside a cloistered community. Ray, too, is on a constant quest of self-discovery, at war with his dual English-Romany nature. And the Jankos, from Rose’s domineering husband, Ivo, to matriarch Tene, struggle to keep their sense of selves even as Rose’s fate threatens to blow everything apart.
The Invisible Ones exceeds what we expect from a good mystery novel by delivering weighty themes with the light touch of one immersed in creating suspense: the result is a delight, with a kicker that shocks and satisfies, to boot.