Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Small Death in Lisbon: Robert Wilson

A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson has two story lines, one set in the 1940's in Germany and Portugal, the other set in the late 1990's in Lisbon. The later time line features a police detective whose investigation of a teenage girl's murder links back to the experiences of a Berlin factory owner forced into Hitler's SS in 1941.

The main character in the World War II section of the story is Klaus Felsen, the factory owner turned SS officer. With his manufacturing experience, Felsen is ordered to Portugal by the military, primarily to increase the supply of wolfram (tungsten) shipped back to Germany. Unfortunately none of the main characters in that part of the story were likable or sympathetic. The star of the story set in the 1990's is  Zé Coelho, a policeman in Lisbon who is just coming back to work after dealing with the death of his wife. He has a good relationship with his teenage daughter and his new partner is young and brash. Their first case together is the investigation of the brutal murder of Catarina Oliveira. This is a long book and the author has plenty of time to provide rich characterizations and explore the relationships in depth.

This book won the CWA Gold Dagger in 1999. The story is suspenseful and compelling, and I learned a lot while reading the book. I know little about Portugal, and was not aware of the status of that country during World War II, so I found all of the historical background interesting. On the whole this was a great read, but the story contained too much violence and sex for me.

This book is a standalone novel, but the author has written three series: the Bruce Medway series set in West Africa, the Javier Falcon series set in Spain, and the Charles Boxer series, based in London. My favorite novel by Wilson is another standalone novel set in Lisbon, The Company of Strangers.


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Publisher:  Berkley Books, 2002. Orig. pub. 1999.
Length:     451 pages
Format:     Paperback
Setting:     Portugal, Germany
Genre:      Historical Mystery
Source:    I purchased this book.

12 comments:

  1. I have this one on the pile, but I'm kind of put off by its length. Unreasonably my rationale is that I can read 2 half as long in the same time!

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    1. I know what you mean about the length, Col. And now I am reading an even longer book. I am a glutton for punishment. But it is very good.

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  2. I've heard of this author but have never read any of his books. I'm not sure I've ever read a book set in Portugal. It does sound interesting. You always introduce me to new-to-me books that usually have been around for a while. I love that!

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    1. Thank you, Kay. Reading about Portugal was very interesting, it was all new to me.

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  3. Hmm....I can't say I'm a fan of a lot of violence and sex in my crime fiction, Tracy, especially if it's brutal/explicit. At the same time, I am drawn to the setting, and I think a dual timeline can work well when it's done deftly. Your review is excellent, as always, but I think I'm a bit 'on the fence' about this...

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    1. Thanks, Margot. I like dual timelines in most cases, but I can say that Wilson seems to lean toward a lot of violence in his books. I have read one of the Bruce Medway books and one of the Charles Boxer series, and both were gritty and violent. Great writing though.

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  4. I think I have this one as well bought years ago. So too much violence and sex, that's interesting. Took note of A Company of Strangers if I ever want to read him. --Keishon

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    1. Well, Keishon, too much violence and sex for me, but I am sure many readers would not be bothered. And several reviews I read mentioned that element but noted that it was a part of the story, not gratuitous.

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  5. I don't think this one is for me, Tracy. I've heard of Wilson but that's about it. Never read him. I like the idea of learning about Portugal in WWII though - it was a hotbed of spy activity.

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    1. This probably is not for you, Yvette. The majority of the books I have read by Wilson (only 4 so far) have been grittier than I like. It is hard to find mysteries set in Portugal, though.

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  6. I'm with Yvette on this one, Tracy. I had my fill of Lisbon from Night Train to Lisbon, and I'm reluctant to read a book that long. I do like the idea of the two time periods. Reminds me of Hans Hellmut Kirst's Night of the Generals. Great cover, tho!

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    1. This book is not nearly so philosophical as Night Train to Lisbon, Mathew, but it is long. And for that reason I would only recommend it to those who have tried and already liked Robert Wilson's books. I am going to try one more of his, but it is set in Spain. And yes, the cover is very nice.

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