Book: Capital Punishment, by Robert Wilson. 2013
Watch out London! Robert Wilson has unloosed his awesome research to uncover the deepest, darkest vilest secrets of your grand city. In Capital Punishment, a London thriller, his new hero, Charles Boxer, freelances for a firm that specializes in negotiating with kidnappers. The trail of the current case leads to India and Pakistan as he tracks down the missing daughter of an Indian film star/entrepreneur/investor with some shady connections.
Like Wilson’s other books– set in Portugal and Madrid, Spain (Reviewed here: A Small Death in Lisbon; The Hidden Assassins 2006; The Blind Man of Seville, 2003) the complications are Byzantine in their twists and turns. The number of characters can be staggering.
I have to agree with a reviewer on Amazon who complained that in the middle of Capital Punishment, a bunch of new characters drop in out of seeming nowhere. In the last third of the book, Wilson does a good job of keeping the reader up to speed on who’s who, so stick with him through the slightly baffling middle third, and you’ll find that the seemingly random assortment of players in the London thriller makes sense.
I think the complexity of Wilson’s novels focuses the reader’s attention on the fact that it isn’t just our everyday world that has become more complex and influenced by international forces–but the darker world of crime as well.
While “whodunit” definitely keeps the plot moving here, the underlying question of motivation provides the deeper meaning to the book. Is it terrorism? Is it personal revenge against an amoral, if not immoral, businessman? Is it love? Is it the conflict between India and Pakistan? Is it a struggle for International power between rival gangs of thugs? Even a London thriller may be motivated by forces far away.
Wilson was a finalist for the Steel Dagger award for thrillers for Capital Punishment, but didn’t win. He had previously won the Golden Dagger for A Small Death in Lisbon. Who knows what the judges are looking for? I certainly don’t. I can only tell you what is similar and what is different about Capital Punishment compared to other Wilson books.
Wilson once again anchors his story in a very specific location, which he has said is very important to him. In an e-mail discussing his Spain books, he told me, “It is only by seeing a place and feeling its atmosphere and breathing its air and smells and watching its people that a novel starts to germinate in my mind.” However, instead of sticking with London, this story wanders into India and Pakistan. Since those locations are, as it were, supporting players, we don’t get as detailed a picture of them. And while we get lots of names of neighborhoods and streets and bus lines in Capital Punishment, I didn’t feel immersed in the culture as I was when I read his novels set in Spain and Portugal.
Unlike his other books, that segue between two very separate time periods, this book is more linear in its development, which is neither negative or positive–it just is. Some readers have objected to the extreme violence found in Wilson’s earlier books. Although there are still some characters who take lives with no more thought than taking a Tylenol, I didn’t think the London thriller was nearly as bloody as the prior books. That will please some readers and dismay others, I suppose.
Finally, my only reservation about this book. While I thoroughly fell in love with Falcón, the detective in the Madrid series despite all his neuroses and struggles with commitment, I came away feeling nothing for Charles Boxer. The mother of the kidnap victim was more interesting. The various bad guys were more interesting. His African ex-wife who is now a cop was infinitely more interesting. Heck, the kidnap victim was fascinating–and could star in her own series.
But Boxer? Whether because of his need to partially hide himself as he played his role as negotiator, or because of British reserve–I never got a real handle on his personality. I certainly was not left salivating to read more episodes of his life–unless they continue to feature the mother and the kidnapped daughter and/or his African ex-wife.
Having stated my gripes, however, Robert Wilson remains my favorite contemporary thriller/mystery writer. I recommend Capital Punishment to you if you like a mystery with a bit of intellectual challenge. And, despite my misgivings, I will be in line to read the next in the Boxer series, because Wilson being Wilson, I think he’ll find some of the missing notes from the first book.
Note: Wilson also wrote a series of books set in Africa, where he lived for a time. I don’t mention them only because I have not read them. I found it interesting that Portugal, his current home, gets its moment in the current book, and there’s an echo of Africa in the backstory of Boxer’s ex-wife.
The publisher provided me with a copy of the book, which you can purchase at Amazon as hardback, paperback or in e-reader version. I am an affiliate of Amazon, so if you choose to get there through links on this site, you’re supporting A Traveler’s Library. It costs you no more, so why not? Thanks.