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by Robert Wilson
HarperCollins, July 2006
464 pages
ISBN: 0007202903

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Seville's Inspector Jefe Javier Falcon is called upon to examine another parade of corpses in his third outing. He is confronted by the distasteful sight of a bloated, handless, scalped corpse whose face has been partially burned off with acid. Someone is determined the body should not be recognised. Falcon is slightly distracted from his task by the memory of an unexpected meeting with a former love, Consuelo, but the respite is brief and the investigation must be pursued.

The following day, Seville is rocked, metaphorically as well as physically, by an explosion. An apartment building is blown up and an adjacent school badly damaged, with four children fatally injured.

Falcon's investigation is complicated when he hears that a mosque was located in the basement of the block of flats. The spectre of terrorism permeates the ruins and Seville's intelligence services are called upon, their functionaries unwilling to share knowledge with Falcon and his men, while at the same time planning to exploit Falcon's knowledge and contacts.

Juez Esteban Calderon is assigned to work on the bombing case. The womanising judge is now the husband of Ines, Falcon's former wife. The two do not seem to let the strange relationship hinder their professional association although that state of affairs might be different if Falcon learns about Calderon's sentiments and actions toward Ines.

Journalist Angel Zarrias is almost Falcon's brother-in-law. He is the lover of Manuela, Falcon's sister. He seems to feel he has a special claim to information possessed by Falcon and also has a relationship with a political party which begins to take on some significance in the investigation.

Falcon's loyalty to a Moroccan friend is also tested as he is called upon by his Intelligence colleagues to ask his friend to spy on compatriots for the benefit of Spain.

There are several themes and subplots to this tale. Wilson exercises his bent for description to an unpleasant degree at times. He explores, along with her injuries, the paradoxical devotion of an abused wife to her brutal husband and sees nothing wrong with describing casualties of the bombing in unsettling detail.

Sometimes the plot is a little difficult to follow as the subplots collide. The personal lives of Falcon and the judge tend to occupy a hefty portion of the narrative, detracting somewhat from the primary thread. I don't know about other readers, but I found the profusion of difficult names also a distraction. Almost invariably I permitted my attention to be jolted by the name of Falcon's superior, Elvira, constantly needing to remind myself that the character is male and not female.

When Wilson turns his descriptive powers to portraying the city of Seville there are charming breaks to the horror of the related action. The characters of the novel, not the least being Falcon, are tortured. Their problems are dark and their reactions are grim.

The plot is somewhat convoluted with an unexpected resolution that tends to mirror the tendency of the wider world to indulge in conspiracy theory in troubled times.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, August 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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