The Hidden Assassins by
pbk out April 07
Robert Wilson is not the only one on top of his game in this the third novel
featuring Chief Inspector Javier Falcón, now five years on from the debilitating
events of The Blind Man of Seville (2003). Falcón too is on impressive form
as he makes his first deductions from the bloated corpse discovered that
morning, resting "in the most degrading position", its face seared with acid
and its hands removed. Even a disorientating encounter that morning with
Consuelo Jiménez, with whom Falcón conducted an inconclusive affair four
years ago, at first plays only briefly in his mind.
Shortly after, that brief encounter triggers in Consuelo the kind of mental
collapse regular Wilson readers might associate more
with Falcón himself. Meanwhile other figures from the previous books re-
cur. Apart from Falcón's regular team (for reasons that will become clear,
the ex-nun Cristina Ferrera emerges more clearly from the background), there
is the unfaithful Inés, Falcon's ex-wife, now married to Esteban Calderón, the
brilliant but (still) womanising judge. There is also Falcón's sister, the
materialistic Manuela and her partner, the right-wing journalist Angel. All will
play key roles in the unfolding drama.
Then, as more initial steps are taken to identify the murdered man, Wilson
introduces a new character, Gloria Alanis and her eight year-old daughter
Lourdes. Gloria says goodbye to her husband Fernando as he leaves for
work, Lourdes to her younger brother Pedro. It is the last time her family will
see Gloria alive, for the apartment block in which they all live, along with the
pre-school building alongside, is destroyed minutes later by a massive
explosion. It is the sixth of June, 2006.
That atrocity and its investigation is the central, enthralling core of the book.
Wilson skilfully works a complex plot into a thriller of great urgency and thrust,
one with both surprise and ingenuity, not to mention an eleventh hour
development that brings the book to a thrilling conclusion that is not only
hugely satisfying but unsettling as well.
But it is the far-reaching nature of that plot (and its sub-plots, not least those
concerning Consuelo and Inés) that takes the book into another league. From
the point at which it becomes known that the basement
of the bombed apartment block had housed a mosque,
Wilson widens the scope of the book to take in not only the hard, sometimes
conflicting caclulations of those at the centre of the investigation (the police
themselves, the guiding judiciary, Spanish intelligence and anti-terrorist
personnel, the CIA), the prejudices of the wider public, the machinations of
self-serving politicians, the often trivialising manipulations of the media, but
also, on a more personal level, both those directly affected by the atrocity
itself (through a plot-line featuring Fernando Alanis) and those outside its
immediate impact. These include
those subplots apparently contributing little to the central narrative, those
concerning Consuelo and Inés for example, which not only advance our
knowledge of the characters but also serve to throw light on other themes
(violence against women, for instance, the need for close self-examination, of
history or motives) that are relevant to all sides of the ideological debate.
Wilson also uses Falcon's recently discovered Moroccan connections to
explore many aspects of Arab/Muslim opinion.
The writing is strong, sometimes both powerful and moving (note in particular
the sensitive handling of the explosion and its aftermath), pace well-
maintained (sometimes through the discoveries of the forensics team as they
pick their way down into the bombsite wreckage). Meanwhile, situated at the
moral centre of the book is Falcón, unswerving, questioning and humane.
Exploitative? No. Illuminating? Yes. A remarkable book by a remarkable
writer. Wilson proves, once again, that he is the crime novelist for our