Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

Robert Wilson has a well-deserved reputation as an author of densely-textured, psychologically-fraught police procedurals and thrillers set mainly on the Iberian Peninsula. A Small Death in Lisbon won the Gold Dagger Award and vaulted him to prominence in the field. Having read that earlier novel and now this one, I have to confess I admire his books more than enjoy them. His detective-protagonists in both are likable enough, but we seem to spend too little time with them and too much with genuinely unpleasant secondary characters. As if the creepiness of these other cast members weren't sufficiently off-putting, some are so peripheral to the main story that they seem to exist for little reason other than their foibles and psychoses. There's a sado-masochistic relationship in this story that involves a judge in the case, but he's so easily written out of the plot that all we're left with is the violence, which is thereby gratuitous. And while the investigations into the background mystery are realistic enough, in Mr. Wilson's world people seem to be able to discern an awful lot more about the emotional state of others than they do in mine. A stranger passing on the street, for instance, can tell that a woman "wants" to be raped. Maybe it's a European thing?

At any rate, the mystery in Hidden Assassins surrounds a massive explosion in a basement mosque that takes out the apartment building above and wreaks havoc throughout a city block in Seville. Inspector Jefe Javier Falcon must navigate media hysteria, bureaucratic maneuvering, the agendas of clandestine organizations, intelligence agencies and politicians, rumor, innuendo, and more to determine whether the devastation was an Islamist plot, a matter of bungled preparations for another attack, or something altogether different. The real strength of the book is the way Mr. Wilson ties it to the Madrid train bombings and explains the details of that earlier incident and the politics arising out of it. However, without spoiling the plot of the book, the reader is hardly surprised when things are revealed to be more complicated than a straightforward terrorist attack. The reader is though not unlikely to be somewhat angered by the nature of those complications, which, let's just say, are of a piece with blaming America for al Qaeda terrorism.

Eventually the book bogs down under the weight of its extraneous plotlines and political correctness. I was interested enough to finish, but would only recommend it very hesitantly. More than anything else I'd say that Mr. Wilson is in need of a forceful editor, but as authors become bestsellers these days it seems publishers lose the courage to even suggest edits, so his best books may well be behind him.


Grade: (C)


See also:

Robert Wilson Links:

    -Robert Wilson (Wikipedia)
    -ARCHIVES: "robert wilson" falcon (Find Articles)
    -INTERVIEW: When crime does pay: This month Robert Wilson talks about travel writing with a dark difference (Guardian Unlimited)
    -PODCAST INTERVIEW: with Robert Wilson: The Hidden Assassins (Stuart Beaton, Small Picture)
    -INTERVIEW: Robert Wilson (HarperCollins Crime & Thrillers)
[A]fter the Madrid bombings on March 11th 2004, and their startling effect on Spain's election results, Rob knew he had to deal with the issue. Islamic terrorism had come to mainland Europe and contributed to a change in government and that was unquestionably going to affect his characters.

The circumstances seemed apt, for he had a uniquely useful hero. In The Silent and the Damned Javier Falcon had recently traced his ancestry to Morocco and he also lived in a city and region with a glorious Islamic past. Falcon is thus able to act as a bridge between Spanish authorities and a potentially hostile Muslim community. Seville has a unique heritage in this respect that marks it out from other Spanish cities.

"Although separated by the Straits of Gibraltar, the two regions of Southern Spain and Morocco are essentially the same, apart from their religion and some aspects of their culture," Rob explained. "These differences were brought about by the final expulsion of the Moors from Andalucia in 1492 after more than 700 years of occupation but the cultural debt lingers on and it’s why so many people love to go to Seville. It was these particular set of circumstances that led me to change my mind.”

Clearly a great deal of research was required. Reading up was helpful but with such sensitive issues, it was time to do some fieldwork. Rob and his wife, Jane, went to Morocco where he’d used his contacts to set up interviews at a factory. Over the next few days they spoke to a wide range of Moroccans and expats including senior executives, salesmen, factory supervisors, skilled and unskilled workers – even the security guard. Fortunately, they encountered few problems getting people to talk.

“The Moroccans had suffered their own terrorist attack in Casablanca in May 2003 so they were as interested in talking about terrorism as any European,” Rob recalls. In addition, to put them at ease, neither used any kind of recording equipment. This worked well. “They were expansive and revealing. The most striking discoveries were that to a man and woman they were religious, some profoundly, others less so but there was no such thing as an agnostic or an atheist.” This was in stark contrast to Javier’s native Spain, where despite its Catholic history, only an estimated 20% of the population continue to observe the faith.

Meanwhile, Moroccans have a sense of history that to a western mind appears distorted. As Rob puts it, “History [to them] was a living thing, and their view of it was, of course, exclusively Arabic”. Thus, references to the events in the Koran and the 1917 Balfour Agreement are spoken about in the same breath. Similarly, recent events are subject to intensely subjective speculation.

“Some of the Moroccans we spoke to, and they were educated executives, believed that 9/11 was a Mossad operation, which George Bush had sanctioned to discredit the Arab world. They also believed that the invasion of Iraq was masterminded by Ariel Sharon and that he was the commander-in-Chief of the American forces on the ground,” said Rob. He believes he has identified why such theories abound in Islamic society: “Arabs think like this because of a profound emotional engagement in the conflict and a total lack of trust in what Western governments are telling them.”

    -INTERVIEW: Robert Wilson (Georgina Burns, Shots Magazine)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview with Robert Wilson: The Blind Man of Seville (Between the Lines, Harcourt Books)
    -PROFILE: Novelist finally got around to writing (Dennis Lythgoe, Mar 16, 2003, Deseret News)
    -REVIEW: of The Hidden Assassins by Robert Wilson (Bob Cornwell, Tangled Web)
    -REVIEW: of the Hidden Assassins (Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of The Hidden Assassins (Bill Eichenberger, Columbus Dispatch)
    -REVIEW: of The Hidden Assassins (John Dugdale, Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of The Hidden Assassins (crimeficreader, It's a Crime)
    -REVIEW: of The Hidden Assassins (Matthew Lewin, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Hidden Assassins (Richard Schickel , LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Hidden Assassins (Bill Peschel, Planet Peschel)
    -REVIEW: of A Small Death in Lison by Robert Wilson (Richard Bernstein, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of A Small Death in Lison (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Company of Strangers by Robert Wilson> (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Company of Strangers (Peter Gutteridge, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of The Company of Strangers (Chris Petit, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: for The Blind Man of Seville (Reviews of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Blind Man of Seville by Robert Wilson (Ava Dianne Day, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Blind Man of Seville (Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -REVIEW: of Blind Man of Seville (Chris Petit, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Blind Man of Seville (Peter Gutteridge, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Blind Man of Seville (Mark Thomas, The Age)
    -REVIEW: of Blind Man of Seville (Dennis Lythgoe, Deseret News)
    -REVIEW: of Blind Man of Seville (JANE JAKEMAN, The Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The Vanished Hands (Dana King, New Mystery Reader)

Book-related and General Links: