"The Hidden Assassins"
(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky NOV 16, 2006)
“We are fighting the equivalent of a mutating virus. No sooner do we find one cure than it adapts to it with renewed lethal strength."
Robert Wilson's The Hidden Assassins is an intricate novel about the lengths to which extremists will go to achieve their goals. Wilson's recurring hero is Seville-based homicide inspector Javier Falcón, who is called to the scene when a naked corpse is found in a pile of rubbish. The victim had been scalped, his hands had been cut off, and his face was burned with acid to prevent identification.
Falcón is still pining after Consuelo Jimenez, a beautiful woman with whom he had a brief and torrid affair four years earlier. Little does Falcón know that Consuelo is close to an emotional breakdown because she is tormented by demons from her past; she is considering entering therapy with a blind clinical psychologist whom Falcón himself has consulted, Alicia Aguado. Meanwhile, Falcón's ex-wife, Ines, is unhappily married to a philandering and arrogant judge named Esteban Calderon who abuses her.
The main plot centers on a huge explosion that destroys an apartment building and mosque and damages a nearby preschool. Falcón and his team, along with agents from Spanish intelligence and the antiterrorism squad, work tirelessly to find the perpetrators of this atrocity before they strike again. The public is inclined to believe that the explosion is the work of Islamic extremists, but why would they bomb a mosque? Could the explosion have been accidental? There are many questions to be answered, and it will take superior investigative work to break open this case.
The Hidden Assassins is a textured and atmospheric novel in which the author closely examines his characters and their actions, demonstrating that appearances may indeed be deceiving. Falcón discovers the existence of a fanatical Catholic group whose members despise Muslims. Could this right-wing organization have been involved in the bombing? If so, what did they hope to accomplish? Does the disfigured corpse discovered at the beginning of the novel have anything to do with the explosion? Falcón and his colleagues have their hands full interrogating witnesses, tracking down elusive clues, and making sense of a vast and confusing array of facts. More dead bodies pile up before this agonizing case is resolved, and Falcón is not completely satisfied with the outcome.
Robert Wilson has written a suspenseful and literate book that examines the breakdown of the fabric of modern society. Spain, where Catholics and Muslims live uneasily side-by-side, is not unique. Resentment and suspicion have infected mixed ethnic communities all over the world. In addition, the author examines his characters' troubled personal lives. The book features some loyal and courageous men and women who are willing to make sacrifices for the greater good, but there are also quite a few individuals who are petty, selfish, cruel, and sadistic. The Hidden Assassins refers not just to the terrorists among us, but also to the people we know who kill us a little bit each day with their cutting remarks and vicious betrayals. Robert Wilson never allows his readers to grow comfortable or complacent. This intelligent, challenging, and suspenseful novel has a number of thought-provoking and disturbing themes that will resonate with readers for a long time to come.
- Amazon readers rating: from 5 reviews
"The Vanished Hands"
(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky SEP 4, 2005)
"We're defined by what we hide from the world."
In Robert Wilson's new book, The Vanished Hands, Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón, the chief of the Seville homicide squad in Spain, has a particularly nasty case to investigate. A wealthy businessman, Rafael Vega, and his wife, Lucia, are found dead in their luxurious home. At first glance, it looks like a straightforward case of murder/suicide, but Falcón has his doubts.
Rafael Vega worked in construction and he had ties to the Russian mafia. He was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, and his wife was an emotional wreck. The couple's marriage had been deeply troubled for a long time. Could Vega have killed his wife and then himself? As Falcón's inquiries continue, he learns that Rafael Vega was hiding many ugly secrets that could have ultimately led to his death.
Robert Wilson's textured writing makes The Vanished Hands an intriguing and tense psychological thriller. Wilson effectively explores the weaknesses and vulnerabilities that cause people to act in self-destructive ways, harming not only themselves but also those closest to them. This book has an aura of melancholy, since it deals with such weighty themes as child abuse, political torture, and infidelity.
Wilson has a deft way with characterization, and this book has quite a cast. Javier Falcón is a man of tremendous integrity, who is willing to lay his career on the line to see that justice is done. His ex-wife, Ines, is engaged to Juez Esteban Calderon, a duty judge who is also a known womanizer. Falcón's therapist, Alice Aguado, helps to keep Falcón on an even emotional keel and she also assists Javier with other cases that he is pursuing. One of Rafael Vega's neighbors, Consuelo Jimenez, is a well-to-do and beautiful widow to whom Javier is attracted, but he has always been unlucky in love. Finally, Marty and Maddy Krugman are an odd couple who may know more than they are telling about the deaths of Rafael and Lucia Vega. Marty is almost two decades older than his voluptuous wife, who reflexively comes on to almost every man she meets.
The Vanished Hands is about coping with psychological pain and trying to find contentment in a flawed world. It has a layered and complex plot, engrossing characters, and profound insights into the workings of the human mind. Wilson is an author who is comfortable with ambiguity, and, unlike lesser writers, he offers no easy answers or pat solutions to all of life's problems.
- Amazon readers rating: from 9 reviews
"The Blind Man of Seville"
(Reviewed by Bill Robinson JAN 29, 2003)
If a mystery that focuses on the search for an eyelid-stealing murderer sounds a bit too grisly, you might consider passing on Robert Wilson's latest, The Blind Man of Seville.
The lead character, Detective Inspector Javier Falcón, has trouble sleeping nights as his search for a serial killer finds him uncovering secrets to his own and to his father's past. Should you choose to accompany Falcón on his journey of discovery, you, too, will be kept up and on edge. However, no aspect of this taunt, provocative, literary thriller will disappoint.
English author Robert Wilson has written six previous novels, including A Small Death in Lisbon. For that book, he won the Gold Dagger Award as Best Crime Novel of 1999. He will certainly win numerous awards for The Blind Man of Seville, a novel that transcends the mystery genre.
When we are introduced to Falcón after the first hideous crime, we see a man who is already under intense pressure as a police official in modern Seville. He works in an environment where cynicism is the order of the day and intricate bureaucratic politics color every facet of every assignment.
As usual, it is the desire of Falcón's colleagues to put as little energy as possible into investigating the murder that opens the book. However, Falcón finds an old photograph at the murder scene that leads him to his own recently deceased father's journals, unread for thirty years. The senior Falcón was a famous Spanish artist who led a highly colorful and somewhat gruesome life, graphically chronicled in the journals.
Wilson's integration of the senior Falcón's journal entries into the body of the novel provides an added and fascinating dimension and depth to the book. Javier reads of his father's exploits as a legionnaire in the Spanish Civil War where killing is so common as to be ignored and life has lost any real meaning. Javier sees the father he knew as a successful businessman and artist first in the role of self-described and unfeeling butcher, later as constantly stoned sybarite lacking any semblance of values.
Back in the present as murders multiply, the killer begins to communicate cryptically with the police. It becomes obvious that the crimes are linked together in some complex way. And, increasingly, it becomes obvious to Falcón that the murders are linked to his own past and to unexplained past deaths in his own family.
In addition to making a complicated story consistently intelligible and intriguing, Wilson creates a highly captivating, multi-dimensional overall atmosphere. The Seville nightlife has a tangible feel with its smoky, crowded bars and mysterious, dark side streets. We are right beside Falcón as he stumbles exhausted and confused through the labyrinth of past events, events now somehow making a horror show of the present.
Wilson's narrative asides are also engaging, an example being a visit to a bullfight, an event, again, like much in the book, where life and death hang in the balance.
The Blind Man of Seville is by no means for the faint of heart. It looks death straight in the eye without blinking, helped in several s by the absence of eyelids. You will feel for Falcón, with sympathies and emotions that run deep. You will find that the overall narrative exercises a tight, strong, and often painful grip, often hard to break, certainly impossible to ignore. With these caveats, if all this sounds like something that you think you can handle, perhaps even enjoy, you will without a doubt find The Blind Man of Seville an engrossing and singular read.
- Amazon readers rating: from 22 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Jefe Javier Falcón Seville Series:
- The Blind Man of Seville (2003)
- The Vanished Hands (2004; released as The Silent and the Damned in UK; 2005 in US)
- The Hidden Asssassins (November 2006)
The Bruce Medway series, fixer and debt collector in West Africa:
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- Harper Collins interview with Robert Wilson (2006)
- Curled Up interview with Robert Wilson (2005)
- Shots interview with Robert Wilson (2003)
- BookReporter.com review of The Blind Man of Seville
- Curled Up review of The Vanished Hands
- Who Dunnit review of The Hidden Assassins
- MostlyFiction.com reveiw of The Company of Strangers
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About the Author:
Robert Wilson was born in 1957. A 1979 graduate of Oxford University, he has worked in shipping, advertising and trading in Africa. He has travelled in Asia and Africa and has lived in Greece and West Africa.
He is married and writes from an isolated farmhouse in Portugal.