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Robert Wilson - The Silent and the Damned,
This review is from: The Silent and the Damned (Paperback)
Mario Vega is now an orphan. While he stays overnight with a friend, his parents lie dead in their large Seville house. Rafael Vega is on the kitchen floor, a bottle of drain-cleaner by his out-flung hand; Lucia is upstairs in bed, a pillow smothering her face. Every indication points to a suicide pact, but for an enigmatic note grasped in Rafael's hand.
Inspector Javier Falcon has recently returned to work. After the horrific revelations concerning his artist-father Francisco Falcon [see The Blind Man of Seville], he was left almost destroyed. Depressed, tormented, confused and mentally broken, dispassionate Javier was a wreck. Now, he is settling into life again, learning to appreciate it, and is a changed man. He's more relaxed now, less intense. And he is puzzled by the Vega suicide. Inconsistencies seem to hint at murder, but, overall, he admits suicide is most likely. As Falcon delves into Vega's murky history, the investigation careens all over the place. There are vague connections to a paedophile ring; the Russian mafia are somehow involved, and Vega's neighbours throw up more questions than answers: There's a mysterious American couple, a widow from Falcon's past, and the misery of a famous actor whose son is in prison for a terrible crime. Within days, two more suicides follow, and as a forest fire ravages the hills above the city, Falcon finds himself plunged into the dark hearts of men submerged in torment.
If The Blind Man of Seville hadn't been short-listed last year, this would win the Gold Dagger. Believe me. I was initially a little worried that without Francisco Falcon, the monster at the heart of the maze, this novel would not be as sucessful as its predecessor. I needn't have worried. The Silent and the Damned is every bit as powerful, though in different ways. The other thing which made The Blind Man of Seville the best novel of last year by far was the ongoing psychological portrait of Javier Falcon, who gradually disintegrated throughout the novel, through the horrific case and the shattering revelations about his father. I can honestly say that in all my life I've never been as worried about a person who didn't exist. Forget TV and film completely. Everyone knows it: emotional connections are most effectively forged in words, in books. When writers get it right, boy do they get it right. I will never be able to remove that novel from my mind.
In The Silent and the Damned, Wilson does it rather differently. We are not Javier's concerned audience, we are complicit with him. We stand alongside him as he, who is just finding his way back into life, must investigate the deaths of men who were not so lucky, who found themselves consumed by torment. Having gone through it himself, but just escaped, he understands them. It's such an incredibly effective contrast and, added to the fact that the psychological investment Wilson provides us this time is with those men, is where this novel's power comes from. Where the last book examined the depths of human suffering from Javier's point of view, this time Wilson does something similar but different: we see the depths of human suffering from a more detached angle, but we also see the aftermath of human suffering.
There are other distinctive points which distinguish this novel as well. Unlike The Blind Man of Seville, which was mostly internal, inside Javier's mind, this novel is heavy on dialogue. Skimming the first novel now, there are large chunks void of speech, but The Silent and the Damned hardly goes a page without extensive dialogue, which can only be a conscious choice on Wilson's part. To tell the story through human interaction, to create human warmth as backdrop to a case so full of emotions that are only black. It is a wise choice. Not only is it thus a slightly more comfortable read than TBMOS (don't misunderstand me; I wouldn't change that book for the world), it moves quicker, is more pacy. It's also shorter, sharper. The focus is different. There's comfort in the dialogue. Comfort in companionship, and it also indicates that Falcon is in a personal void no longer. He even gets a woman!
The Silent and the Damned is a powerful, affecting crime novel that doesn't disappoint because it just doesn't know how to. It's noir in the most human sense. Down to the final pages, it is superb, and I've not even begun to mention how sucessful it is as a crime novel, a novel of detection and intrigue, or what an atmospheric picture of Seville it provides. Rest assured, you're always safe in Wilson hands. In neither book does he lower you too far down into the well; he always knows exactly in what "place" you are in with his characters. You'll come out okay. I promise. Maybe a little scared, but basically okay. They make not be easy or comforting books to read, but give yourself up to Wilson: take his hand, and let him lead you into the darkness.