Three books–set in Seville, in Barcelona and in a small fishing village are our ticket for travel to Spain this week. Here’s the first. Come back Wednesday and Friday for the next two.
I’m back with one of my favorite detective novelists, Robert Wilson, re-visiting the gorgeous city of Seville Spain with the third of four Javier Falcón novels, The Hidden Assassins. I wrote about the first Javier Falcón book, The Blind Man of Seville , which took place in two different time periods. Like that first Falcón novel, The Hidden Assassins reflects both the joyous life of Seville and the darker side. Unlike Wilson’s other novels, this one takes place entirely in a present time (2006) and deals solely with a very contemporary subject–terrorism. An Amazon reviewer aptly said, “This is a 9-11 novel without 9-11.”
Falcón, whose police work involves investigating murders, has befriended an American CIA agent and the connection with the agent and his family roots in Morocco draws him deeper into an incident than the investigation of murder. When an apartment complex in Seville rips apart in an explosion , investigators discover that there was a mosque in the basement. Falcón’s job is to find the perpetrator of the murders, but his job is complicated by the overlapping investigations of Spain’s federal anti-terroism squads (CGI, comparable to U. S. Homeland Security) and intelligence agency (CNI) not to mention intelligence agencies from other countries.
Who set off the bomb? What was their motive? Is this the beginning of a wider attack involving other countries? Was it possibly an accidental explosion by bomb makers working out of the mosque? Were anti-Muslim groups behind the bombing? Falcón muses,
“It happened in the Crusades; why shouldn’t it happen now? While some were out there battling for Christendom, others just wanted to kill, pillage and conquer new territory.“
As in the other Falcón novels, the detective deals with personal problems. Wilson explores the insecurities and quirks of characters alongside the solving of larger crimes. He writes psychological crime novels where not only the criminal is disturbed. Other than wanting to rekindle his affair from four years ago with Consuelo Jimenez, Falcón has achieved some stability in his own life. However, Consuela now is sorting out her life with the help of Falcón’s former psychologist. Judge Esteban Calderón, whom nobody likes, gets his comeuppance at last, but not before a tragedy involving wife beating.
The rich complexity keeps drawing me back to Wilson’s stories. Although a terrorist act is shocking and the book starts with the discovery of a gruesome corpse, this book is less relentlessly horrific and violent than his former novels. I think that gives the reader more breathing room to think about the philosophical questions raised by terrorism and the conflict between Muslim and Christian societies.
The reactions to the attack sound so familiar. The press overreacts and their insistence on publishing shocking facts impedes investigation. Various law enforcement agencies joust for position. The populace wants revenge and quickly turns virulent against all Muslims. Politicians find ways to carve personal advantage from tragedy. It could be any country–but it is Spain, unmistakably, Spain, the author being Robert Wilson.
People dine at 10:00 p.m. and are liable to have business meetings at 9:00 p.m. Falcón wanders through streets and parks I remember from our visit to Seville. The Maria Luisa park. The Macarana area where I watched the parading of the Virgin of Macarena during Easter paseo (and tried to catch a taxi at 3:00 a.m.).
I particularly enjoyed the cameo appearance of two wonderful hotels we visited (but unfortunately did not stay in). Wilson describes the Hotel Alfonso XIII:
The Hotel Alfonso XIII was, in terms of size, probably Seville’s grandest place to stay. It had been built to impress for the 1929 Expo and had a mock mudejar interior, with geometric tiles and Arabic arches, around a central patio.
From this hotel, he moves on to the Hotel Imperial, and says, “It was hidden away down a quiet street and overlooked the gardens of the Casa Pilatos.” Although I didn’t explore the Hotel Imperial, we wandered down the street of Casa Pilatos and to our delight ”discovered” the 16th century palace. The hidden mansion displays a collection of old Roman and other art.
Finally, he mentions the hotel I dream of staying in if I’m every fortunate enough to return to Seville, Hotel Las Casas de la Juderia.
The book can give you some tips on traveling outside of Spain as well, as an itinerary that includes the roads to Granada and Cordova become an integral part of the plot.
I have spent quite a bit of time talking about Hidden Assassins as a map to Spain for travelers. I hope that doesn’t give you the impression that I do not take the novel seriously. It deals with serious questions and is thoughtful and compelling, and I highly recommend it to people who like mysteries. (The author suggests reading the four Falcón books in order, which means starting with Blind Man of Seville.) But with a writer like Robert Wilson, who believes that stories grow out of their own locale, there is no denying the side benefit that travelers can derive. In fact, when I read my first Wilson book, the acclaimed A Small Death in Lisbon, I also gave you an article from Packabook about using the novel as a guide to Portugal. I’m waiting for someone to do the same with the Javier Falcón series and Seville.
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