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'The Blind Man of Seville' by Robert Wilson

Mystery looks death straight in the eye

Sunday, March 16, 2003

By Bob Hoover, Post-Gazette Book Editor

The blind man of Robert Wilson's tightly wound novel is Javier Falcon. His eyes are fine; it's his soul that cannot see the truth of his haunted past.

Falcon is a homicide detective in Seville, Spain's "happiest city," a balmy, attractive metropolis with delights that are wasted on the melancholy cop.

"The Blind Man of Seville"

By Robert Wilson

Harcourt ($25)


Falcon is all business, too uptight to joke with his colleagues, a cold man with no friends or lovers. "You have no heart," his pretty ex-wife told him as she walked out.

He lives in the home of his recently deceased father, a successful painter, but the comfortable empty surroundings are little solace. His only visitor is the housekeeper who leaves him food he barely touches.

A classic depressive, Falcon could be a dull character offering little to build a story on, but in his struggle, we sense a decent if not remarkable person.

Wilson is a Briton who has found the sunny Iberian peninsula a rich ground for his crime novels, providing him with a land of both ancient passions and modern horrors.

His previous work, "A Small Death in Lisbon," deftly combined a contemporary crime with World War II intrigue in Portugal.

His latest reaches from hip Seville to the Spanish Civil War and nationalist fervor in Tangier, Spain's neighbor across the Strait of Gibraltar. The trigger is, as usual, murder.

Falcon is dimly aware that his tightly controlled life is about to unravel when he is called to the home of Raul Jimenez, a well-to-do restaurateur with a beautiful young wife and a distant connection to Falcon's father.

Jimenez had been tortured to death, his lifeless body slumped before a TV set hooked to a VCR. His eyelids had been neatly sliced off, making it impossible for him not to see whatever had been on the screen.

The beautiful widow, whose lover had been turned up by the police, is the prime suspect, but when Falcon is contacted by a young man using a stolen cell phone, it's clear that something more sinister is at work, especially since the caller seems to know about the detective's family life.

Shockingly, the anonymous messages lead him to discover his father's journals which date to 1932 and reveal a far different man than Falcon could possibly have imagined.

The diaries are both a history lesson -- who knew Franco's troops fought for the Nazis in Russia? -- and a portrait of another fascinating character, Francisco Falcon, a heartless killer, family man, popular artist and conniving fraud tortured by a sexual hunger.

Other mutilation murders occur as Falcon, debilitated by his mounting depression worsened by the revelations in the diaries, grows more helpless.

Wilson's novel is a brilliantly conceived psychological thriller, heightened by his talent for drawing the reader into his character's agonies of self-doubt and self-discovery.

Falcon is solving his own mystery, and we are there at his side every step of the way.

Bob Hoover can be reached at bhoover@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1634.

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