readingtrance

book reviews by Althea

A Small Death in Lisbon – Robert Wilson ****

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This book was recommended to me as a high-quality thriller… something that’s a bit hard to find, sometimes.
When it came in the mail, I have to say, my first thought was, “why does it have to have swastikas all over it?” OK, fine, Nazis, villains, but you still don’t always want to be carrying swastikas around with you on the subway… It put me off from reading it for a while.

But – I got around to it.
It’s a very well-written book. I haven’t visited Portugal, but I was convinced that the author effectively captured the setting and culture of Lisbon.

However, the plotting and pacing were sometimes… off. There are two stories here – one in the 1940’s, about a German businessman who is recruited into the SS and set to acquiring stocks of the rare mineral wolfram (tungsten) from Portugal. The other is set in the 1990s, with a police investigator looking into the murder of a young girl whose body is found on the beach.

There is absolutely no connection between the two alternating narratives until page 289. That’s kind of a lot of pages. The 1940s narrative develops very slowly, and, this isn’t really a spoiler, but a lot of the details from that narrative NEVER become relevant to the events of the 1990s.

After this very slow buildup, the end is a crazy rush! Car chases! Murders! Betrayals! Plot twists galore! All jammed into the last 50 pages or so! It’s fun and exciting, but it doesn’t really fit with the flow of the rest of the book.

Also, this is not really a criticism, but a reader should know that getting into this book is signing up for spending a lot of time with some really despicable people. I mean, we are talking SS officers here, and there are war atrocities, sexually perverse murders, etc. At times I was longing for some decent human beings to show their faces…

One more note – I kind of objected to the assumption that healthy, happy teenagers would NEVER get involved in a sexual threesome…  😉

Oh, and just ONE more note… to point out the importance of proofreading. One of the chapter headers has a typo. It says “1995” instead of “1955.”  Forty years makes a big difference, in this book! That was very confusing, until I figured it out…

All this said, overall, I did think the book was quite well done, and well-researched, especially for the murder-mystery genre. I would read more from this author.

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