Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wilson, Robert: A Small Death in Lisbon

What starts as an investigation into the brutal killing of a teenage girl in Lisbon develops into a patchy history lesson which
starts in Nazi Germany in 1941 and continues to the 1990s. A factory owner is forcibly enlisted into the SS and given the task of securing an increasing amount of wolfram from Portugal for the German war machine. To do this, he uses a local
peasant leader and the two of them become rich and powerful, more so when his task is changed to receiving and hiding
bullion. The two of them set up a bank and get rid of the SS men involved in the scheme (though one escapes). By the 1950s, the peasant has become a respectable banker with the German being involved in dealing with overseas branches.
On a return to Lisbon he has sex with the peasant's wife and later boasts of this though this leads to his being convicted of
murder (of the escaped SS man) and imprisoned. Jumping forward, one of the peasant's sons is a society charmer and well-
placed to run his father's business while the younger one joins the Portuguese secret police. Later, when the Salazar regime is overthrown, the latter leaves Portugal for some years but returns under an assumed name when his father dies. He becomes involved in the bank again, eventually taking over when his brother is killed in a car crash. Almost in passing, he
is shown to have regular sexual liaisons on a Friday including, unexpectedly, the rape of a legal secretary delivering papers to
the office he uses solely for that purpose. In the course of investigating the murder, the detective in charge is transferred when he seems to be treading on important toes. The murdered girl is the daughter of the lawyer who had handled work for the bank set up with the SS gold and the detective eventually finds that she had been buggered by the younger son who is
then convicted of murder and, simultaneously, the German, now released from prison, provides evidence of the bank's origins. The twists in the tail are that the younger son had raped the fiancee of the lawyer a week before their marriage and
the murdered girl was his daughter; he was not the murderer but had been set up for this by the lawyer who had discovered the relationship but there was no way of proving this in addition to which the lawyer was well protected by the powers that be.
The above misses out a lot of sub-plots and is released not straightforwardly but in smaller sections jumping back from the
present investigation to the past with the links only becoming obvious near the end. Reasonably wel written and certainly
holding the interest despite the necessary coincidences along the way. It would possibly have been less successful without the detailed inserts from the past though reading just the parts dealing with the murder and investigation provide a satisfactory enough story on their own.

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