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This is the third novel in Wilson’s Falcón quartet, following "The Blind Man of Seville" and "The Silent and The Damned".
In "The Hidden Assassins" Wilson is really pushing some boundaries with a plot based around the bombing of an apartment block in Seville; a block known to have a mosque in its basement. Thus we have a story that explores the cultural tensions that we have in the world – tensions we have seen increase over the last few weeks in the UK particularly, following another security alert.
If fiction can help to improve our understanding, then this novel does it.
Written from the points of view of the many who are party to the tension, "The Hidden Assassins" provides an informative insight into the world today, whilst entertaining through great writing and excellent plotting.
In a nutshell: we meet Falcón just as he has taken on the case of a man found brutally murdered, whose body has been mutilated for the sole purpose of preventing identification. During a visit to the morgue, Falcón hears a noise and is in no doubt as to its origins. He rushes to the scene and finds the devastation he feared – an explosion has brought down a tower block and impacted on a pre-school behind it. Memories of the Madrid bombings still fresh in everyone’s minds, all the emergency services immediately begin the necessary painstaking work at the site. Falcón leads the police investigation, working alongside other agencies whose viewpoints relate to "intelligence" rather than evidential fact. So begins the most far reaching and challenging case in Falcón’s career…
Whilst the novel is long at some 450 pages, Wilson’s writing is lean and every word counts. What, at first glance, may be interpreted as a "throw away" comment is there for a purpose. Take one sentence in the description of Falcón’s ex-wife Inés, for example: "Her stick-thin forearms seemed to have grown more hair and they made her feel curiously weak." The reference to hair growth says so much about how Inés feels about herself, her physical and mental state.
Wilson’s writing is also very subtle and understated. This is put to full effect in the description of the explosion itself, as seen through the eyes of the mother in one ordinary hard working family to whom we have just been introduced in the narrative. Every moment of sheer horror is described, every physical aspect as seen, in what can only account for a second or so, in total. There is no emotion in the narrative – it is the reporting of fact. The emotion is all in the reader.
In Seville, the bombing increases the tensions in the lives of all, and for the main characters of this novel, their stories interweave effectively. This includes a particularly disturbing case of domestic violence, written again, in that understated way that sees the emotion resting with the reader. Further afield, Falcón is persuaded to seek assistance from a friend for the purposes of the investigation; something that sees him wrestling with a great conflict of interest and fear for his friend’s future. (And something that brings home to the reader, this one at least, just how much risk some take on behalf of others…)
Told with constant reference to timescales, there is no respite in the reading of this investigation – it’s a page turner to the bitter end.
By far, this is the best novel I have read this year and it is also so very topical, a "must read" in today’s climate.
(So good in fact that I’ve nominated it for Susan Hill’s "The Book Bloggers’ Book Prize".
Considered by one newspaper reviewer of punctuating his main plot with "disconnected soapy storylines", I beg to differ. The only sub-plot I considered to be verging on the superfluous was that of Falcón and his love interest. He wants to re-establish his relationship with Consuelo, but we learn, through the odd chapter of her own crisis and why she chooses to remain distant from him. That, in itself is original, albeit not pertinent to the plot in hand. Had they managed to get together early in the novel, I doubt that anyone would bat an eyelid. However, it does set up one scene for the fourth and final novel in this quartet.
HarperCollins has a splendid interview with Robert Wilson about the background to this novel, which can be read here.
Wilson is currently on tour in Australia, which has led to another interesting interview in The Australian, which can be read here.
If new to this series, "The Hidden Assassins" can easily be read as a stand alone, but I’d recommend reading the series, starting with the first novel "The Blind Man of Seville".