A Small Death in Lisbon

Much to my surprise I went back to one of the books I began in May and had given up on, Robert Wilson’s A Small Death in Lisbon.  It starts off with the death of a 15 year old Portuguese girl whose body is found on the beach, but with pine needles in her hair in an area with no pine trees.   Ze Coelho is a police detective in homicide who’s single with a daughter a little older than the murdered girl Catarina.   There is a parallel story of Nazi gold and wolfram mining which follows a man named Klaus Felsen from Berlin to Portugal and his career in the SS and later in banking.   I’m not sure what to say about this book as it’s not really my kind of thing at all.  Wilson states in an article that the book is about a cycle of revenge and how each act of revenge begets another and each character must decide whether to take revenge or break the cycle.  They can be active or passive, see or ignore.  That’s a very good two sentence summation of the book.   Not many of them choose to break the cycle.   I guess then you wouldn’t have a book, but it’s a long, long line of betrayals, cruelty, violence and general lack of care for one’s fellow man.   Naturally, one expects that of the Nazis, but really, it’s just about everybody.


And what they’re avenging is sometimes hard to make out.    Felsen at one point takes revenge on an Englishman and it’s a little vague why.   Because a woman liked the Englishman better?   She slept with Felsen, not the Englishman.   I don’t know and neither does Felsen, really.   He doesn’t know why he does what he does.   Outside of Coelho’s relationship with his daughter, families don’t count for much.   Some individual relationships in families matter, but overall, there’s a lot of indifference and hostility.   This book is chock full of crimes fully described in lurid detail all of which in the end don’t add up to much of anything.   Motives are questionable at best and more than one character appears to just be psychopathic.   The history of Portugal in World War II is interesting, unfortunate that it isn’t really relevant in the end.

Spoiler:  And why the hell did the murderer drag the body from the pine wood Monsanto park down to the beach?   Stupid thing to do.   Now you’ve got DNA in your car, whereas if you’d just left the body in the park, maybe dragged it behind a bush they’d have had a hell of a time tying you to the crime, I think, and it probably wouldn’t have been found as fast.   Best crime novel of 1999?  Note to self:  Don’t read any more crime novels from 1999.


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